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New Laws Benefit Developers, But Will They Hurt Local Governments?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is being asked to veto several bills that passed the Florida legislature and are now poised to become law, with critics alleging they would benefit real estate interests but hurt local governments, ordinary citizens and the environment.

Development encroaches fields in rural Florida.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal Editorial Board opined that 2021's annual lawmaking session, which adjourned April 30, could be considered the “worst session ever," with "a raft of bills that were kooky, anti-environment, anti-consumer, anti-public safety or just anti-common sense." The newspaper outlined five that should be vetoed.

1000 Friends of Florida, a nonprofit smart-growth advocacy organization, is asking the governor to veto several bills that limit communities’ abilities to manage and pay for growth.

Among the contentious list: 

HB 337 limits impact fee increases that can be imposed by local governments, school districts or special districts. It specifies that no such increase may exceed 50% of the current impact fee rate, and an impact fee may not be increased more than once every four years. It also provides for impact fees to be paid in installments in certain cases.

An analysis prepared by the staff of the state's House of Representatives says it will have a negative fiscal effect on local governments.

The News-Journal argued that Florida state law "is already carefully written to keep local governments from ringing developers up for costs they shouldn’t be responsible for. HB 337 would cripple cities’ and counties’ ability to keep impact fees in line with actual costs."

HB 421 and HB 1101, called “Relief From Burdens on Real Property Rights,” would amend Florida’s Bert Harris Act, making it easier for private property owners to challenge local government regulations that they claim burden their property. The legislation increases the amount of attorney fees and costs that a local government must pay in certain situations, and it allows a property owner to continue pursuing a Bert Harris claim even after selling the property.

1000 Friends of Florida said these bills would “have a chilling effect on the ability of local governments to enforce their comprehensive plans and land development regulations and adopt new provisions related to community resilience and other critical issues.”

HB 487 will reduce oversight of proposed development projects.

Under Florida’s Community Planning Act, municipalities adopt comprehensive plans. Amendments to such plans typically must be reviewed by multiple state and county agencies and be considered at two hearings. However, amendments that are deemed “small-scale” require no state reviews and only a single hearing.

Small-scale amendments previously could be used to regulate parcels up to 10 acres; with the new law, that figure will be 50 acres; within a rural area of opportunity, the figure increases from 20 acres to 100 acres. reports that other groups are asking DeSantis to veto additional real estate-related bills, including one that would permanently cut into the state's affordable housing trust fund, and another that would preempt local governments from instituting rules governing transportation-related infrastructure, like banning gas stations or requiring EV charging stations.

About 260 bills were passed this session, FloridaPolitics reported. Last year, DeSantis vetoed only five.