Florida is a state that, despite some fears about the 2011 amendments to the planning/growth management provisions in the Florida Statutes, has a strong emphasis on planning and land regulation; one of the strongest in the nation. But how to translate that strong emphasis into a functioning reality is the real issue.
I believe that, in the translation of that planning emphasis, each local government’s land development regulations are the most important part of the land planning and regulating effort. Comprehensive planning gets all the attention from the planners and the individual applications get the attention from everyone else, but it’s the land development regulations that should be the star.
What good is comprehensive planning if there aren’t regulations to implement it? How can individual applications be decided fairly and consistently if there aren’t good regulations to guide the decisions? The land development regulations (aka: the zoning code, the land development code) are where the rubber meets the road, where the real world happens. If they don’t work well, the objectives of the planning and the intentions of the regulating don’t get implemented. Good planning decisions are dependent on good planning regulations.
But, more often than not, the land development regulations are relegated to the background. The writing of them is often viewed as not as important as other tasks and is left up to people who don’t have the information or support they need for the job. Because codes often have regulations that are internally inconsistent, confusing, or don’t fit the jurisdiction’s situation, the exact wording is interpreted or glossed over to make it work, or ignored all together.
For those that need to use the regulations – whose property is being controlled by the regulations – poorly drafted, confusing, or improperly grounded land development regulations leave them without any idea what the rules are and what they are supposed to do, or not do. These property owners’ representatives sometimes have only a moderately greater knowledge of the details of the code or believe that the details of the regulations are not where they need to focus their attention, often resorting to political solutions instead.
Citizens that wish to address individual applications are often intimidated by the sheer size of the code or confusing terms and, rather than the code being a resource they can use to make their points, it is ignored in favor of tried and true methods such as packing the room with opponents or presenting multi-page petitions. The decision-makers often aren’t much better off and, without clear procedures and standards, fall back on gauging the amount of opposition, acting on their personal feelings about the matter, or making the most politically expedient decisions.
The purpose of this web site is to try to help change the perceptions and the function of Florida’s land development regulations. I hope that, through the information and resources provided here, with thoughts, comments, and questions from you, we can start to turn around how land development regulations are perceived and how they work – to make them the star they deserve to be.