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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Volusia To Begin "Smart Growth Plan" But Forgets We Already Have The Laws In Place

Corruption in the Daytona Beach City CommissionAgain, "Smart Growth" is a hot topic. This week Volusia County and most of its cities agreed to start yet another plan for "smart growth" by controlling future growth to certain areas in the county and limiting environmental impact in others.

Monday, July 14, 2008
13 Central Florida News

DELAND -- Volusia County and most of its cities have agreed to start a plan for "smart growth," limiting growth to certain areas in the county, and limiting the environmental impact to several building corridors.

Forget sprawling homesteads. Your neighbors will be closer. That is just one change in how communities are planned.

"How can we still get the same amount of units in the same development without affecting the environment at the same time? How that's going to happen, that's the big question," said Gregory Blose, with the Volusia Home Builders Association.

The bursting of the real estate bubble has been well documented. However, what can Volusia County and the cities do now? Growth is still happening, but now it will be smarter.
Developers are running out of the "easy" places to develop, such as large parcels of farmland.
Government leaders and planners will have to begin taking hard looks at the rules in place, and if they should be tweaked as developments move beyond the usual corridors.

"We want to encourage good development that has minimum impact on the environment, but in order to eventually pull something like that off, we should -- we, as the government, should look for a way to make that happen a little easier than we currently are," Blose said.

Easing the rules does not come easy. Development near the historic Ormond Beach Loop is a touchy subject, and later in week, the Volusia County Council will be reminded just what the rules regarding cutting of larger, "historic" trees are on the books.

The outline of Volusia County's smart growth plan was approved by the county and 15 of the 16 municipalities in 2007.

Somehow they have forgotten that the Florida Growth Management Act of 1985 (the "GMA", contained within Florida Statutes Ch. 163) already took care of all these things.

But the law is not followed by many municipalities. The issue is not one of enacting more ordinances or laws but of enforcing the ones we have and ensuring that the public officials entrusted with the police power to administer zoning and land use, just abide by the rule of law.

This should not be so complicated; You have a law, you follow it. But in practice, corruption gets in the way.

The Hometown Democracy grass roots movement was born as result of abuses perpetrated by public officials in defiance of the GMA, with Daytona Beach as one of the worst violators in the state. The group has enjoyed such a surge in popularity and support that its Hometown Democracy Amendment will likely be on the ballot later this year. They put out an interesting video that illustrates the intent of the GMA.

There would not be a need for any grass roots movements like the Hometown Democracy if only the Growth Management Act was followed and enforced. The law is very clear as to what are the criteria for land use amendments and rezonings. The problem comes when some corrupt commissioner, too inept to see the difference and too often with a predisposition for malfeasance, just grants or denies zoning on the fly acting per instructions from her campaign financer or political patron. The city attorney remains silent at the abuse, and the aggrieved party is forced to request judicial redress ( but only if it can afford the high cost of admission to the judicial system, an impossible maze to navigate by any layman).

In Daytona Beach, when the lawsuit comes in Circuit Court (usually in the form of a toothless Certiorari Proceeding), an elected judge, often financed by the same patron that financed the corrupt commissioner, sides with the status quo rather than make any waves. God forbid he ever upset his campaign supporters!.

This is a broken system and the cost has been dear to Daytona Beach citizens. The damage is reflected in the city's poor economic base, the lack of infrastructure, job opportunities and investment, and the overall moral breakdown we see everyday. Whether or not the Hometown Democracy Amendment passes, the problem will remain: ensuring public officials obey the laws they are entrusted to protect, and prosecuting the ones that do not.

That is the real challenge.

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