Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Growth control? Don’t you know that there’s a recession on? …

   Florida Governor Crist signed this week a controversial new law that makes it easier to build new development in the sunshine state.  Here’s a nearly final version.  Much criticized by environmentalists, the bill was signed into law with little ceremony.  On the radio this morning, a somewhat defensive-sounding Crist fell back on the last refuge of politicians:  “jobs, jobs, jobs” was his clichéd rationale for the new law.        
Fla-map    The enormous piece of legislation makes one’s eyes glaze over.  But an obviously important provision redefines a “dense urban land area,” in which tough transportation and infrastructure requirements do not have to be met, to include any county that has 1000 people per square mile (or just over one per acre) or any county with 1 million in population.  Counties may also designate “infill” areas with fewer requirements for infrastructure.  The critics assert that these changes gut important parts of Florida’s landmark growth management law of 1985 and open the door for greater sprawl in a crowded and environmentally sensitive state that continues to attract new residents from elsewhere.
    I won’t claim to pass judgment here and now on the wisdom of the changes, or even whether it makes sense to limit growth in a state such as Florida through the process of requiring that infrastructure be planned “concurrently” with a new development.  Rather, suffice to say here that the new law’s passage, with obvious discomfort from the governor, shows how an economic recession spells bad news for efforts to protect the environment and restrict sprawl, even in a time of housing glut, because of siren song of promising jobs …

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