FL - OPINION: Another Legislative Gift to Developers

Portions of the "Disaster Relief" bill are legislative gifts to developers as provisions of these bills prevent local governments from imposing building moratoriums or amending comprehensive plans or land development regulations associated with damage caused by Hurricanes Ian and Idelia. The Disaster Relief Bill will likely result in reduced building standards for hurricane recovery efforts and set a bad legal precedent for the next legislative session.

CS/HB 1-C: Disaster Relief "Disaster Relief" was approved during the recent Florida legislature’s special session and signed into law by Governor DeSantis on November 13, 2023.

CS/HB 1-C, “Extends the prohibition on burdensome or restrictive local building processes enacted in the 2023 session in response to Hurricanes Ian and Nicole from October 1, 2024, to October 1, 2026, and clarifies the counties and municipalities affected by the prohibition.“

The bill includes Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Lee, Manatee, and Sarasota counties.

Instead of preempting local governments from adopting policies that protect the lives and property of the residents of Florida, coastal setback codes need to be strengthened in a manner that provides for greater disaster preparedness so inappropriate development does not continue to impact our coastline. ManaSota-88 recommends the following:

1. Temporary moratorium on rebuilding after a storm. Comprehensive Plans and Land Development Codes should be amended to include a temporary moratorium on rebuilding not immediately needed for public health, safety, and welfare.  

Several coastal communities have adopted policies that authorize a moratorium of up to 60 days on reconstruction of structures if at least 50% are destroyed by storm, flood, wave, and wind damage. During the moratorium, county commissioners can then consider purchasing damaged properties or pursuing other mitigation responses.

2. Redevelopment after a storm. Coastal Setback Codes should indicate that any redevelopment after storm damage will not negatively impact vegetation, beaches, or coastal dune systems.

3. Native vegetation. Any new development or redevelopment should be required to plant or replant native vegetation.

4. Establish 40-year erosion rates. Coastal setback codes should determine local beach erosion rates expected over 40 years. Coastal setback codes should also require the disclosure of specific hazardous conditions during property transfers.

5. Retreat from the Coast. Retreat from the coast is the only viable long-term management option that will ensure the protection of the coastline.

Development interests have a vast influence on Florida’s legislative process. The Governor and the Legislature will be lobbied to further gut growth management regulations so local governments will no longer be accountable for their growth plans, ensuring local comprehensive plans will remain the toothless documents they have always been.

Florida is known for its unique and valuable wetlands, wildlife habitats, beaches, and marine resources, but our weak land development regulations are underwriting the continued development in flood-prone, coastal, and environmentally sensitive areas. Local governments routinely approve construction seaward of established coastal control lines where no construction is supposed to occur.

It remains to be seen if the next legislative session will result in any meaningful actions to limit growth in hurricane-prone areas. Florida's policymakers need to realize that there is such a thing as a coastal high-hazard area and that it is not in our best long-term interest to continue to build in it.

Glenn Compton is the Chairman of ManaSota 88, a non-profit organization that has spent over 30 years fighting to protect the environment of Manatee and Sarasota counties.

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