Audubon Florida News

Topic: Growth Mgmnt,Online Advocacy



Lawmakers Should Extend the Life of Growth-Management ‘Traffic Cop’

posted on April 23, 2010 in Growth Mgmnt,Online Advocacy

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By Charles Lee: Imagine a five-way intersection in the busiest part of town — without stop signs, traffic lights, or a cop to direct traffic. Well, that’s Florida’s growth without the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

The department — the state’s growth-management agency — is up for reauthorization or extinction under a government sunset provision that requires a decision by the Legislature. The agency has been held in that limbo for two years now. Some legislators seemingly beholden to special interests would just as soon see the state’s growth traffic cop go away.

The DCA reviews comprehensive-plan amendments proposed by cities and counties. It protects millions of acres of precious Florida landscape controlled by “Areas of Critical Concern” designated by the Governor and Cabinet in the Green Swamp, Florida Keys and Big Cypress. The agency also reviews mega-developments known as “Developments of Regional Impact” or DRIs.

To hear the critics of the agency tell it, they would have you believe that the whole recession in real-estate sales and land development has something to do with the Department of Community Affairs. But the stark truth is that the massive run-up of the real-estate market and approval of hundreds of thousands of housing units from Pensacola to Key West happened under the agency’s oversight.

In reality, the department’s typical reaction is not to say “no” to development. A Volusia County example of DCA’s work can be seen in the 5,187-acre Restoration proposal — a development of regional impact — that includes plans to put 8,500 residences and 3.3 million square feet of other development west of I-95 in the city of Edgewater. The agency initially said “no” but then negotiated with the project developers and environmental groups to assure a better project with more stringent protections for environmental land.

To be sure, I don’t always agree with the DCA. I am concerned about the agency’s review of the Farmton-plan amendments, which would cover 59,000 acres in Volusia and Brevard counties. The plan calls for 25,000 homes and 4 million square feet of nonresidential space on about 19,000 acres. In my view, the department’s initial negative position on Farmton fails to grasp the innovation inherent in a plan that reaches out more than 50 years, and guarantees immediate preservation of the tract’s natural assets through binding conservation easements on 77 percent of the tract. Likewise, I regret that DCA may approve the “Sunwest Harbortowne” project in Pasco County — a conventionally planned marina-oriented development with serious unresolved impacts on threatened species and marine resources.

Nonetheless, in all of these cases Florida’s Growth Management “traffic cop” functions with immense value for the quality of life of future generations. As an environmental advocate in Florida for more than 30 years, I would not want it any other way. The story in this year’s Legislature is this — two bills would do the right thing and reauthorize DCA. SB 282 was approved Thursday by the Senate. HB 7107 passed its initial committee but then has failed to progress. It is notable that the recommendations of the House and Senate committees actually charged with sunset review have all been to reauthorize DCA with little change.

In the House, the “fatekeepers” holding the fate of DCA and Florida’s growth-management program in their hands are Current House Speaker Larry Cretul of Ocala and Speaker Designate Dean Cannon of Winter Park. All Floridians concerned about the future of their state should contact Cretul and Cannon to urge them to use their leadership positions to assure the reauthorization of DCA in the 2010 legislative session. You can reach them here.

Charles Lee is director of advocacy for Audubon of Florida in Maitland.

Blasting the Environment

From the Orlando Sentinel:

Legislators have two weeks left in their 2010 session to show Floridians they care about the environment. Or they can continue turning the session into an environmental turkey shoot.

That’s dangerous sport in an election year. Poll after poll suggests Floridians consider themselves environmentalists. They hate sprawl, and care about quality-of-life issues. Legislators nevertheless have both barrels trained on the agency that regulates growth. And they’ve already fired off rounds at clean-energy initiatives, the state’s premier land-preservation program and an effort to make water management districts more accountable.

In fact it’s turning out to be one of the worst sessions for the environment on record — and don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise just because a potentially disastrous plan to lift the state’s offshore-drilling ban ran into opposition.

Its chief supporters, Dean Cannon in the House and Mike Haridopolos in the Senate, plan to pass it next year, when they’re scheduled to take over their respective chambers.

Ugh. Here’s a guide to staving off disaster:

Keep DCA alive. DCA’s the state Department of Community Affairs. It’s one of the few meaningful obstacles left in Florida to block the kind of development that local governments can’t get enough of, but which growth-stressed residents don’t want. DCA stiff-armed a developer’s plan to build an oversized marina in an aquatic preserve frequented by manatees on the St. Johns River in Volusia County. It shaped rules preserving eagle habitat for large developments near Lake Tohopekaliga in Osceola County. And this year, it ripped apart blueprints for the unneeded, 23,000-home Farmton development in remote sections of Volusia and Brevard counties.

House Republicans, led by Mr. Cannon, want to scuttle DCA, however. They’ve tried dismantling it. This year, they’re refusing to reauthorize it. And next year, after the election, look for them to try killing or gutting it. If only they’d renew it: That would send a convincing message to voters that while legislators don’t always appreciate DCA’s reach, they get its purpose. And it would send a powerful message that Florida doesn’t need Hometown Democracy, the ill-advised citizen check on development.

Go green. With renewable energy legislation stalled in Congress, it’s up to the states to pick up the slack. To its credit the Florida Senate keeps trying, promoting a bill that requires utilities to generate 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. But even though the requirement would help diversify the state’s economy — a goal of both legislative chambers — the House opposes mandating targets. Too costly, it contends.

So too, according to many in the Legislature, may be the state’s solar rebate program. Since June alone, almost 8,000 people have applied for rebates that pay up to $20,000 for home solar systems. The number of solar contractors in the state has increased almost five-fold since the program began in 2006. But the program — and those fledgling businesses — are on life support. The state’s gaping budget deficit may justify cutting the program’s $14.4 million budget. But don’t eliminate it.

Preserve Florida’s lands and protect its waters. Though some environmentally rich tracts threatened by development could be purchased at bargain basement prices this year , the House’s budget doesn’t fund Florida Forever. And it’s fighting efforts in the Senate to undo last year’s legislative outrage that let a few bureaucrats decide major water withdrawals from the aquifer — and away from public view.

Both are shortsighted views that ultimately will shortchange Florida.

For more information and to take action on behalf of reauthorizing the DCA, click here.

Last Chance for the Department of Community Affairs?

posted on in Growth Mgmnt

DCAlogo3x4Florida’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is the state land planning agency charged with review of local government plan changes, developments of regional impact, and protection of the state’s “Areas of Critical Concern” such as the Florida Keys, Green Swamp and Big Cypress.

This year marks the second in a row in which the agency’s sunset review may go unresolved, leaving the agency ripe for extinction in 2011.

Normally, legislation to “reauthorize” an agency would have passed by now, but delays in the House may allow the clock may run out on reauthorization this year.

After conducting DCA’s sunset review, the House Government Accountability Act Council produced HB 7107 which would reauthorize DCA with little change. However, HB 7107 has failed to progress. In the Senate, a similar bill to reauthorize DCA, SB 282, is moving, and headed to the Senate Floor.

Speaker-elect Dean Cannon (R-Winter Park) has publicly questioned the need to retain DCA as the state’s land planning agency in the past. House delays in reauthorization could be strategic, positioning this issue for next year’s leadership to diminish Florida’s protective growth management laws.

URGENT CONTACTS ARE NEEDED NOW TO:

House Speaker Larry Cretul and Speaker Elect Dean Cannon

handwriting_pencil_clip_artUrge them to follow through on the recommendations of the House committee, and pass HB 7107 reauthorizing DCA this year.

Climate Peril to Birds Demands Action in Florida

ROYT chick  Linda
This Royal Tern chick was photographed by Linda Martino at Huguenot Memorial Park in Jacksonville in summer 2009. Audubon is working in Northeast Florida to protect these birds and others from human disturbance and to conserve their important beach habitat. Notice where the chick is standing: Young Royal Terns do not thermo-regulate well and so being able to sit undisturbed at the water’s edge helps them keep cool.

Statement of Audubon of Florida on the 2010 State of the Birds Report

The 2010 State of the Birds Report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Audubon and other leading conservation organizations shows that climate change will have an increasing impact on birds and their habitat—and the ecological and other benefits they provide to people. It issues an urgent call for sound energy policy that will reduce carbon emissions, and for strategic conservation investments that will help species adapt to a changing climate. If we can help the birds weather this unprecedented threat, we can help ourselves.

In Florida, some of the most threatened birds include coastal species, such as the red knot and royal tern. The Florida scrub-jay, our state’s only endemic species, as well as the ruby-throated hummingbird, prothonotary warbler and roseate spoonbill, are all at risk from climate-induced habitat changes.

“The report makes it clear that these birds will not survive the human-caused changes to our global climate,” said Eric Draper, Executive Director of Audubon of Florida. “Like canaries in a coal mine, the dangers they face warn of dangers to us as well. It’s up to us to reduce the threat.”

Everglades restoration that achieves ecological benefits, protection of our important beaches and coastal habitats, and putting meaningful renewable energy and energy and water conservation policies into place are all winning strategies that Audubon of Florida is working hard to achieve.

What Florida Audubon is doing complements innovative federal efforts to help species adapt; efforts that come with new investments that will create jobs and protect beautiful and sensitive habitats across America. And we’re part of ongoing Audubon efforts to pass ground-breaking climate and energy legislation to control the emissions that cause climate change while there’s still time to make a difference.”

As Glenn Olson of the National Audubon Society said at the news conference announcing the findings, “If you love nature and care about the health of our planet, there is no time to lose. This isn’t just about birds; it’s about our chance to shape our future.”

Legislative Session 2010: Stay Informed with the Advocate

advocate

Legislative Session 2010 is upon us. One of the best ways to stay informed during these next few, fast-paced months is with the Advocate and the Florida Conservation Network. Subscribing to the Advocate is free and it gives you the timely information to help make a difference on behalf of Florida’s economy and environment. Know what is going on and how you can personally make a difference.

Check out the latest Advocate released last week. Subscribe to the Advocate and receive it automatically. What you will find in last week’s Advocate:

  •  Florida Springs Day Takes Over Capitol
  •  Florida Forever and Everglades Funding
  •  Water Quality Legislation
  •  Jobs For Florida–What’s Really at Stake?
  •  House Continues to Consider Nearshore Drilling
  •  Unfinished Business with Renewable Energy
  •  Bills That Address the Python Issue

Latest Advocate Released! Catch It Now

sign_upCheck out the latest Advocate released a little while ago. You can always access the archives for past and recent messages, but it would be so much simpler for you if they just showed up in your email box free and on time.

Latest Raptor Flew to Email Inboxes Around the State and Beyond

IMG_8401_Baby bdow edited-1 (Custom)

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey
Florida Raptor News, February 2010

Welcome to Audubon Center for Birds of Prey Florida Raptor News!   This quarterly publication will inform you on activities, programs and events with Audubon Center for Birds of Prey.  We invite you to share with other friends, birders and conservationists the exciting events and opportunities going on in Central Florida.

baby eaglet (Custom)In This Issue:
•  Heading Into 2010
•  Species Spotlight
•  Check Out What’s New at the Center
•  Events & Programs
•  TogetherGreen Volunteer Days
•  Volunteer Corner
•  Get Out and Get Birding!

Open up and read the latest Raptor. To receive the Raptor automatically and freely, consider signing up with Audubon’s Florida Conservation Network. You can choose only to receive the Raptor from the Center of Birds of Prey, but you can also choose to receive information and alerts from several other publications that deal with Florida conservation issues and Everglades restoration.

President Obama Ushers Florida into a Green Future with High Speed Rail

posted on January 28, 2010 in Growth Mgmnt,Media

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President Barack Obama’s announcement today that Florida will receive $1.25 billion in federal funding to launch a high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando signals a fundamental shift in the state’s pattern of future growth.

“Florida’s green future just got much brighter,” said Charles Lee, Audubon of Florida Director of Advocacy. “Our ability to cut down on harmful greenhouse gas emissions in Florida has been aided immeasurably by the Obama Administration’s action.”

The federal high speed rail grant, coupled with recent action by the Florida Legislature in special session, signals a significant shift in the relationship between government funding for transportation and the way that urban growth occurs in the state.

Instead of spending money to pave roads out through the countryside that open rural lands to sprawl-type development, Florida will now concentrate more of its transportation dollars and planning on inter-city and commuter rail lines that tend to attract development inward, forming more dense and compact growth corridors.

Three rail projects will see immediate steps toward implementation, with more to come. The High Speed Rail link between Tampa and Orlando represents the first leg of a system that may eventually link South Florida, Central Florida and Jacksonville with a common high speed rail line. The “Sunrail” commuter project spanning 61 miles from Deland to Kissimmee through the heart of Orlando will change commuting patterns in Central Florida, while the established Tri-Rail system that runs from Palm Beach to Miami will get a reliable and continuing funding source to facilitate eventual expansion.

“We should see Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) spend less on roads to open land for developers and spend much more on the kind of public transit projects that encourage smart growth in the right places,” Lee

This week’s announcement by President Obama followed the Legislature’s action in December 2009 to create a “Rail Enterprise” within DOT and tasked this new arm with planning, construction,  maintenance, repair, and operation of a statewide high-speed rail system, and passenger and commuter rail systems, including acquisition of corridors and coordination and development of corridors, and to coordinate the development and operation of all publicly funded passenger rail systems in the state.   The legislation also established a Florida Statewide Passenger Rail Commission to oversee rail operations.

“Two very important things have happened. First, we have a tremendous economic boost to construct important rail projects. Just as important, we have also seen the Legislature change the structure and mission of the Florida Department of Transportation.  Both are great for Florida’s economy, environment and future.”

Latest Issue of Advocate: Crist Announces Funding for Florida Forever, Everglades

sign_upThe latest issue of the Advocate was released a few minutes ago. In this issue you find information and updates on funding for Florida Forever and Everglades Restoration, Springs Protection, North Florida Water Advocacy, Nearshore Oil Drilling, Florida’s Energy Security and Renewables, Growth Management, and the newly heralded Birding and Wildlife Viewing Week.

If you would like to receive the Advocate (and other Audubon of Florida free electronic resources) directly in your email box, please click here.

Audubon of Florida and Orange Audubon Score Success Against Sprawl Developments

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© Bob Jagendorf

Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty and three other county commissioners, Mildred Fernández, Bill Segal and Linda Stewart have signaled agreement with advocacy by Audubon of Florida and the Orange Audubon Society that three massive development projects in eastern Orange County should be rejected. The three commissioners are all candidates for Crotty’s position as Mayor. Crotty will leave office next year due to term limits. The political line-up largely assures that developers of these large projects will have a tough time in the future, regardless of which candidate gets elected.

Over the last 1.5 years, Charles Lee, Audubon of Florida’s Director of Advocacy and Sharon Robbins, Conservation Chair for Orange Audubon Society, have appeared at numerous meetings held by Orange County and the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council to raise substantive concerns about each of the projects. The projects are:

  • Innovation Way East, a mixed-use development that includes about 8,000 proposed homes and condominiums and 1.2 million square feet of office, commercial and industrial space.
  • Camino Reale, including 4,000 proposed homes and 1.6 million square feet of office, commercial and industrial space.
  • Rybolt Park, which plans for 5,000 new residences, as well as a 1.1 million-square-foot research park, and more than 1 million square feet of office and retail.

Charles Lee, Audubon of Florida’s Director of Advocacy noted that each of these projects has in common the fact that the Econlockhatchee River Ecosystem would be at risk of serious impacts. Further, he points out, none of these developments is designed in such a way as to have “redeeming qualities”, such as major set asides of conservation land to be protected in perpetuity in conservation easements.   While the Rybolt project did cede about 700 acres to conservation in a sale to the St. Johns River Water Management District last year, it also proposed a controversial bridge over the Econlockhatchee.  “Generally”, Lee stated, “we are advocating that at least 70% of important wildlife habitats such as those in the Econlockhatchee River ecosystem be set aside under permanent easements by developers. These three projects fall far short of that.”

Commitments by the Orange County Mayor and all of the Commissioners currently seeking the Mayor’s office to oppose these projects also suggest that recent legislative decisions concerning urban transit and the “Sunrail” project in Central Florida will begin to impact development decisions.

In order for commuter rail to work properly, Orange County development patterns will need to be re-oriented. “A dense concentration of residential and commercial development will need to be encouraged along the commuter rail line”, Lee indicated.

In the long term, Audubon hopes that the official opposition to sprawl developments in the eastern part of the county begins a trend toward concentrating growth along the rail line in previously developed portions of Orange County.

Read a recent Orlando Sentinel article on this issue
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