Tag Archives: Planning and zoning blog

What are Florida land development regulations?

I guess if this is a multi-page website talking about them, it makes sense to first figure out what are the land development regulations being discussed. They aren’t any one thing. There are, at least, the “street” concept, several statutory definitions, the ideal model, and the practical reality.

When asked about land controlling regulations, most people think of zoning codes. Many of the references to the regulation of land in the Florida Statutes talk about zoning authority, zoning requirements, even when more general land regulations are included. Without a doubt the zoning aspects, meaning the regulation of where and how uses and structures may be placed on the land, are a very major focus. But in Florida, land development regulations must be more than just a zoning code.

The Florida statutes have six specific, somewhat conflicting, definitions of “land development regulations” that vary based on the intent of the regulation in which it is contained – §§163.3164(23), 163.3213(2)(b), 163.3221(8), 365.172(3)(n), and 380.031, Florida Statutes (F.S.)  All include zoning and subdivision regulations in the definition. All but one include sign regulations. Two of the definitions also include landscaping and tree protection regulations. Looking at the list of other topics that the statutes say must be addressed by land development regulations (see What must be addressed in Land Development Regulations, per the Florida Statutes), there are also other types of regulation not addressed in the definitions that must be included in land development regulations. These other regulations are addressed in the definitions by the catch-all inclusion of “any other regulations controlling the development of land” included in all the definitions.

All, but one, of the statute definitions include building or building construction regulations in the land development regulations. The one exception is found at §365.172(3)(n), F.S., addressing wireless facilities, which separates the construction codes of the statutes chapter 553 from the other land regulations to distinguish the “zoning” review of wireless facilities from the building permit review. It may be that the other definitions’ inclusion of “building construction regulations” are also not intended to include the construction codes found in chapters 553 and 633 of the statutes. This reading would be consistent with the provisions of chapters 553 and 633, which specifically separate the Building Code and the Fire Prevention Code from zoning or land use requirements (“The Florida Building Code does not apply to … zoning requirements [or] land use requirements ….” §553.73(13), F.S. “The Florida Fire Prevention Code does not apply to zoning or land use requirements.” §633.0215(6), F.S.) and with the finding of the court in Galaxy Fireworks, Inc. v. City of Orlando, 842 So. 2d 160, 165 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003), which found that the Fire Prevention Code is not a land development regulation (because it “does not regulate what can be built on land, in the sense of land development, but rather it mandates requirements for the structure of a building, if used for certain purposes, in order to safeguard the public from fire hazards.”). 

The definitions all address regulations controlling the development of land. The line can be somewhat blurred, however, as to what is the regulation of the use or development of land and what is regulation of conduct on the land. The court in City of Sarasota v. 35 S. Lemon, Inc., 722 So. 2d 268, 269 (Fla. 2nd DCA 1998) held that a noise ordinance that regulated conduct, rather than land development, was not a statutorily defined land development regulation, requiring certain adoption procedures. Similarly, the court in T.J.R. Holding Co., Inc. v. Alachua County, 617 So. 2d 798, 800 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) held that an ordinance prohibiting adult use conduct in establishments serving alcohol was not a land development regulation, but the regulation of conduct, and the court in M & A Mgmt. Corp. v. City of Melbourne, Fla., 653 So. 2d 1050, 1051 (Fla. 5th DCA 1995) found that an ordinance regulating the conduct of bingo games and bingo halls was not a land development regulation.

Some of the statute provisions say that land development regulations are ordinances (plural) adopted by local governments and others say ordinance (singular). Ideally, all the land development regulations would be adopted at one time, rather than a piece-meal adoption of separate ordinances. This often isn’t practically possible. Whether adopted over time or all at once, to be effective, however, land development regulations should be a unified implementation of the jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan and regulatory objectives, with consistent language and approaches. This is the ideal.

In reality, land development regulations are often separate codes or ordinances adopted and amended over the years, as new issues and problems arise or new laws require adjustments, with each ordinance introducing new, possibly conflicting, definitions, concepts, and standards. This is the reality of land development regulations that are unified only in the fact that they are all found in the same book or chapter of the jurisdiction’s code.

So, the land development regulations addressed in this website are all of these descriptions. The intent is to provide information on what must, can, and should be included in land development regulations, ideas on how they may be viewed by Florida courts, and suggestions on practical approaches to make them functional and effective – working with the reality toward the ideal.

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Make them the star – why land development regulations are (the most) important.

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.