Squandering Leverage in Town Planning

 

By Dom Nozzi

February 18, 2003

Florida has a community growth management law containing a “concurrency” rule: The rule requires that new development demonstrate that existing facilities are adequate to absorb new impacts from the development, or that such facilities be provided by the developer if such facilities are not in place.

As Walter Kulash has pointed out, such a rule might be fine for parks or sewers, but applying it to roads is counterproductive in the state efforts to discourage sprawl (and to promote livability).

Because available road capacity tends to be found in outlying areas, and Florida strives to minimize sprawl, Florida began granting cities the option of establishing “Transportation Concurrency Exception Areas” (TCEAs) in urban areas as a way to counter the fact that the state concurrency laws, in part, promote sprawl.

TCEA approval by the State obligates cities to establish transportation mitigation rules. In most Florida cities, such rules include a menu of mitigation options such as bus stops, sidewalks, etc. A developer must select from the options to achieve a point score that exceeds the minimum required by the city.

I believe that cities in Florida reacted to this TCEA option by “giving away the store” on their TCEA rules. It is very rare for a community in Florida to have any leverage over a development (in which we can say that we would want various conditions placed on a project in order for it to be approved). Florida communities have been a doormat for so long — low taxes, weak regs, no impact fees, etc.

But suddenly, TCEA gave Florida communities their first real opportunity to have some leverage: “We’ll only approve your proposed development project IF you provide X, Y, and Z with your project.” Because road concurrency is the only real concurrency rule that developers and cities care about (park concurrency, for example, is largely ignored — happy cars are the only real concern in Florida…), providing exceptions to road concurrency is, potentially, an EXTREMELY attractive, powerful leverage tool.

For the first time ever, Florida communities would have the leverage to demand quality urban design.

Unfortunately, nearly all Florida communities squander the TCEA opportunity. Nearly all of the TCEA mitigation menu options adopted in Florida are either trivial, do-nothing, band-aid features (more landscaping, sidewalks that no one will use, etc.), or are actually counterproductive (adding turn lanes or bus bays, for example).

Had I been in charge, the approach would have been quite different. “We’ll grant you a road exception. In exchange, you will grant us compact, walkable urbanism.”

 

 

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

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