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DeSantis Urged To Veto Bills That Could Restrict Challenges To Development

Florida’s state legislature just finished its annual session, during which it passed almost 200 bills. Among them is HB 7103, which is seen as a boon to developers.

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Under the bill, residents who oppose a development that applies for an exemption to a local comprehensive plan would be forced to pay a developer or city's attorney's fees if they lose the legal challenge. 

Nonprofit 1000 Friends of Florida, which advocates for conservation and controlled growth, calls it “one of the most pernicious pieces of legislation for Florida’s future” and “the worst bill you never heard about.”

Multiple environmental groups held public events around the state Tuesday, urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the bill.

In 1985, legislators who worried about buildings going up willy-nilly passed the Community Planning Act, which required local governments to adopt comprehensive plans to guide land development. If a city commission approved any developments not in line with the comprehensive plan, citizens could challenge the decision.

But now, an amendment tacked on to HB 7103 would make any challenger pay its opponent's legal fees in the case where the developer won. 

"A hypothetical city can now spend as much taxpayer money on attorneys as it wants to take on a few scrappy residents, knowing those residents stand to lose not just the case but untold thousands in legal fees they can’t afford," the Sun-Sentinel's editorial board wrote. "Without the threat of legal action, city councils and county commissions will be even more liberated from listening to their constituents during public hearings. They’ll know that very few people — except the very wealthy — will be willing to risk so much money to fight what they see as the government’s wrong decision on a new development.”

The bill also stipulates that local governments that require developers to include affordable housing units in projects would need to “provide incentives to fully offset all costs to the developer.”

Such incentives could take the form of density bonuses, or cutting impact fees or water and sewer charges. The bill also dictates certain time frames in which permits must be moved along, and requires that any new cities founded in Florida keep prior development orders in place rather than adopt new development plans.

DeSantis must also make a decision on SB 7068, which would create three toll roads on the west side of Florida, which would in turn transform largely rural parts of Northwest Florida. The Sierra Club has called this “the worst bill for Florida’s environment we have seen in more than 20 years."

FloridaPolitics.com suggests that these bills are essentially a litmus test for DeSantis. Unlike his predecessor, Rick Scott, DeSantis has made a few moves in favor of the environment, which surprised many. But he is a Republican and still seen as friendly to business initiatives, and may not want to cause friction with Senate President Bill Galvano, who pushed the toll roads.