How did we get here? Why is Boca on this path of over-development? This development culture goes way beyond the City of Boca Raton, with the Governor Rick Scott leading the way to a disastrous future for Floridians. Fortunately, there may be some good news ahead.

But First…Some History

In 2011, the Florida legislature made major changes to a 1985 landmark law set up to regulate new development. That law required developers to assess and consider the impact of their projects on both the community and the natural environment. Led by House Speaker Dean Cannon and backed by Governor Rick Scott, the 2011 legislation essentially erased 30 years of growth management law and dismantled the Department of Community Affairs. They wanted to reduce regulations that they thought hindered development in Florida.

The Department of Community Affairs was created in 1969 to review growth management decisions by cities and counties and distribute federal grants for housing, neighborhood revitalization, and foreclosure assistance programs. The office was critical for mediating growth disputes involving adjoining cities and counties and reviewing large-scale development projects for any regional impacts on roads, utilities, and other services.

The 2011 legislation shifted oversight of development from the state to local governments. It also gave the state the final say over development plans that affect sensitive land considered “areas of critical state concern.” The law gives local government’s additional flexibility at imposing requirements on developers, but restricts how far they can go.

The law created a situation in which there is no oversight of local governments when it comes to development. Sadly, the state is not checking whether local governments are obeying the Community Planning Act. This approach endangers natural resources, reduces green space, leads to urban sprawl, and increases traffic congestion.

At the time the legislation was debated, environmental groups warned that the changes would dramatically alter the future of Florida’s land and water resources and harm the quality of life. They said it would pave the way for growth in the name of economic development.

Sound familiar?

Boca is now struggling with a burst of poorly planned development. Without any checks and balances from the state, the City of Boca Raton has made troubling decisions based on who is sitting in the City Council seats and who their biggest donors are. We are now seeing the clear consequences of these actions.

Possible Change On The Way

As Florida faces the challenges of a growing population, state lawmakers are planning to reconsider the development laws in the upcoming legislative session. They will explore whether local control is impacting statewide needs. They will also look at ways to make it easier for local community groups to challenge development plans.

The inability to challenge development plans in their community is an issue very familiar to Boca Raton residents. In early 2012 Boca Raton residents tried to convince their city council that the huge Archstone (now Palmetto Promenade) apartment project on East Palmetto Park Road was not appropriate for the location. Being ignored, the residents initiated a legal petition to have the city council reconsider the ordinance they passed with all of the variances that allowed the Archstone project to move forward. The residents collected 1,111 signatures and the city responded by taking legal action against the residents. The legal actions continued for over a year until Susan Haynie and others from the city council traveled to Tallahassee to lobby the state government to pass a bill making it illegal for residents to challenge development orders. This bill passed into law and an amendment was added making it retroactive to June, 2011. This is now known locally as “Haynie’s Law” and defeated the 1,111 Boca Raton residents who tried to make their voices heard regarding overdevelopment.

This re-evaluation of Haynie’s Law is critical given the current Federal political climate, warnings about climate change, and a recent report published by 1000 Friends of Florida that indicates what Florida will look like in 2070 if we continue on this path. The report released in September predicts that Florida’s population will increase by 70 percent to nearly 34 million residents by 2070. Additionally, almost half the region from Tampa to Daytona Beach will consist of roads, homes, and other development. The organization calls on leaders to shift to smart growth management as soon as possible to alleviate the rapid growth causing crowded roads, neighborhoods, schools, and many other problems.

Stay Informed

We’ll continue to keep you updated on any changes being discussed in Tallahassee. This is a wonderful opportunity for the public to voice concerns at the state level to get our own town on a more sustainable path for the future. Boca sure could use some more oversight!