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Sprawl-Fighting State Oversight Agency Is Dissolved, To the Delight of Local Developers

| June 15, 2011

Old Brick Road at County Road 205. It won't look that way for long: the state just cleared Palm Coast for a major development planned in that area. (© FlaglerLive)

After 42 years, the Department of Community Affairs, which is charged with monitoring housing and commercial development in Florida, will cease to exist.

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill (SB 2156) Tuesday that dismantles the growth management agency and merges it with several other agencies, such as the Agency for Workforce Innovation, to form a new state agency.

The Department of Economic Opportunity will officially be created on Oct. 1. But preparations are already underway to dissolve the Department of Community Affairs to form the new agency. That means dozens of employees could find themselves out of a job by the end of the month.

This major overhaul of state agencies was a prominent part of Scott’s legislative agenda. It is the first major reshuffling of state agencies since the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services was dissolved into four different agencies in the early 1990s in response to scandals and an effort to cut costs.

“The bill I signed today provides us flexibility to seize opportunities created by developing markets and effectively respond to the changing needs of the businesses that grow our economy,” Scott said in a prepared statement.

The bureaucratic shuffle is intended to help create jobs, Scott said. The growth management agency is being eliminated in concert with a new law that drastically reduces the agency’s power to supervise development decisions, which will now be made largely at the local level. The agency, established in 1969, was designed to help prevent sprawl and congestion.

The massive 838-page bill also implements other bureaucratic changes, such as shifting millions of dollars that would have gone into a trust fund for affordable housing and transportation projects into a new fund supervised by the Department of Economic Opportunity dedicated to incentivizing businesses to come to Florida.

For the people who worked at the Department of Community Affairs, the changes to the growth management law and the transformation into the new agency means they might lose their job.

The agency is currently staffed at about 220 people, about 150 of whom will retain their jobs. The people responsible for overseeing what is left of the gutted growth management law will be transferred to the new Department of Economic Opportunity. Those jobs are shrinking from more than 60 to just over 30 positions.

Other positions, such as the 16 people responsible for overseeing the Florida Forever land preservation program, will be shifted to the Department of Environmental Protection. There will also be about 15 jobs involved in regulating Florida building codes shifted to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

DCA spokesman James Miller said no decisions have been as to what happens to the building that the Department of Community Affairs occupies. It’s in Southeast Tallahassee’s Southwood development, which is also home to several other state agencies.

Miller said efforts were made to find jobs for some of the employees whose positions were cut. So far, about 10 employees out of about 70 facing job losses have found jobs in other state agencies, he said.

While DCA employees await the transfer of duties, groups that routinely do business with the planning agency are closely watching the construction of the new state agency to determine how they might be impacted.

Charles Pattison, president of 1,000 Friends of Florida, said the group will shift its efforts more toward local governments and away from what had been a more centralized approach.

Without DCA playing the role of overseer, local planning decisions will have to be dealt with locally by citizens who previously did not have to navigate the complex world of comprehensive planning.

“Our response is that we will have to work harder with the public,” Pattison said.

Pattison said one fear is that the planning function will become secondary to the new agency’s primary purpose of attracting businesses to the state and assisting the efforts of Florida companies to retain jobs and expand.

“There is clearly a role to be played protecting the state’s quality of life and the environment,” Pattison said. “We see those areas as key economic benefits the state offers.”

Jaimie Ross, president of the Florida Housing Coalition, a group of affordable housing advocates, says the coalition is watching how the new agency will divvy up federal community redevelopment funds that formerly passed through DCA. One concern is that affordable housing dollars will become another marketing tool to attract companies to the state instead of targeted the people in need of services.

“There may well be a change of focus to using them as economic development incentives,” Ross said.

On the other hand, Ross said the change of leadership and focus could remove some of the restrictions that DCA has placed on affordable housing funds. In either case, state oversight will diminish.

“My take on this is that we are going to need citizens to be involved on the local level.” Ross said. “Most decisions will be made at the local level.”

–Lilly Rockwell and Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

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17 Responses for “Sprawl-Fighting State Oversight Agency Is Dissolved, To the Delight of Local Developers”

  1. palmcoaster says:

    Now more than ever, we need to make sure that the vacant position left by Distefano in the Palm Coast Council up for grabs in the incoming elections, is not occupied by a developer/builder cheering candidate. Did everyone noticed how birds of a feeder stick together in Monday’s redistricting Council Meeting ?. I refer to COC, the one candidate and some of the local VIP’s? We had and still have enough pressure exercised in favor of these developers in this council and commissioners, that has being very detrimental to the preservation of jobs and the quality of life in our communities.
    ITT, Ginn, Centex, Landmark have strayed away from their original positive promises to the residents, enhanced by lying architectural drawings and allegorical t-shirts and sadly becoming costly and or and eyesore (Matanzas Golf Course) blunders for us all to enjoy. More than ever before now we will have to see what our elected ones will propose to approve whe new developments presented for approval.

  2. Jack says:

    Do you want Tea Party backed candidate Dennis Cross or Jason DeLorenzo, if memory serves me Jason is a registered Dem, but then again those city council races are supposed to be non-partisan. I personally would stick with Jason despite his relationship with the FHBA, he’s a good guy.

  3. Ira says:

    With DCA out of the way, maybe, just maybe, Bunnell will finally find a way to turn all those wastelands it annexed into thousands of homes. After nearly a decade, over a million dollars in taxes have gone towards consultants and staff trying to accomplishing that very feat. This may be the boost they needed. Go Bunnell!

  4. Dorothea says:

    Jack, I agree with your comment. The tea party is taking over the federal and state governments, now they’re organizing to come after local governments. I, too, will support Jason despite his relationship with the FHBA. Better a council member who cares about the future of Palm Coast, than one like Cross who could care less if the city drops into a sink hole.

    It’s ironic that tea party governor Rick Scott gets elected and most people are against everything he does and stands for. Now a local candidate like Cross comes along with tea party backing and people aren’t relating his future actions should he be elected with that of our governor.

    Palmcoaster, I said this before, but it needs repeating….be careful of what you wish for.

  5. palmcoaster says:

    I can reassure you that I do not want a Tea Party candidate in the council. Neither I want a pro developer one. Hopefully someone else will run. I spoke breefly with Cross and he says he is just a Republican and not a Tea Party candidate and he was helped but not endorsed by them…Actually I do not care which party the winner will be, as long as will not be detrimental but an asset to our community. I supported and even helped a councilman to run several years ago. Once elected and a short while, special interest took control and we did not count anymore, many times this council voted against the community wishes on detrimental issues. So we can never be sure what anyone elected is going to do in the podium and is very much time consuming to police them in these long meetings all the time.

  6. Dorothea says:

    Palmcoaster, think about this. Cross lives in a gated community that has its own services or contracts for its own services. The residents have no vested interest in the rest of Palm Coast except to lower their taxes and they are a hotspot of tea party backers. The use of the word “party” as in tea party doesn’t equate with Republican or Democrat or Libertarian, as they will run in any party and say anything in order to get elected.

    Look what their organized protest did to the Palm Coast districts. Some residents on the west side of I-95 are part of the east side, where residents have entirely different issues. These residents on the west side have similar interests with the residents of Pine Lakes or the northern R secion. Now they are forever linked with the ocean side because some one tea party backed candidate couldn’t this one election. Maybe it wasn’t fair, but life isn’t always fair. It certainly isn’t fair to be part of a district where residents aren’t truly part of the community for many elections to come.

  7. Will says:

    Regarding Jason DeLorenzo, I urge people to get to know him and not decide against him because of his employment with the Homebuilders Association. Our city council needs to have as many viewpoints as possible represented to fairly reflect our growing city. At the moment, we have four retirees and one person working for the regional water authority. I really think that having one member of council who works in the private sector is a good thing – and that would be DeLorenzo.

    Additionally, because of his employment, he has experience that no other candidate has in working with our planning and land development codes to make doing business in and with the city more attractive for existing and new businesses. If homeowners have any hope of reducing property taxes, some of the taxes need to shift to business and industry instead of rooftops. He knows how to get things done, and if elected would get up to speed more quickly than someone without that experience.

    Please get to know Jason. He cares about the environment and he’s raising his family here. He has a personal interest in making Palm Coast a better home. And, he knows business. That’s a winner for me.

  8. Justice for All says:

    Jason is a nice guy but he has an agenda. And that is reflective of the Chamber of Commerce and echoed in Rick Scott’s inaugural speech – government taxes, regulations and litigation is the axis of unemployment (paraphrased). Take a look at Jason’s record before City Council – reduction in impact fees for PARKS and ROADS paid by NEW development to off set the cost of infrastructure. Well, just who do you think IS going to pay for that?! The EXISTING residents! And how about that Enterprise Flagler TAX for business development that the Chamber keeps pushing?

    Give me someone with a few gray hairs who has already made mistakes elsewhere and knows not to repeat them. We’ve already made too many mistakes with our City in the name of progress (Centex, Neoga Lakes, Old Brick Township). I don’t want to pave our way to prosperity as a City or a State.

  9. palmcoaster says:

    Totally agree with Justice for All! We need one more candidate to run for this district! I see the writing on the wall with DeLorenzo; Chamber, Enterprise, Developers and some City officials to benefit from, all for him. Already we were able to stop them on their tracks in the last redistricting meeting and sure I could see all the Who is Who around here, seating nearby and or supporting him.
    Problem that the “Who is Who” in Palm Coast and this county are the controlling elite that undermine and outsource many of our meager jobs and our quality of life lobbying for developers abuses.
    If all the city voters will go to the polls remembering our 300 plus jobs lost at the Palm Harbor former Sheraton hotel approved to Centex with drums and whistles by COC, EF and PC City, The Ginn shameful trade of our ocean front prime land for some 300 acres in the bun docks and a parking area called park now, Centex neglect of our PH golf course finally recovered via residents tenacious fight, plus the 5 million taxpayers funds to repair. The eyesore today, Matanzas Golf Course and the millions still to be refunded for the Town Center CRA plus the 6.5 million at least, infrastructure to be maintained now by us all for never materialized Walmart. Then if they remember all the above plus the developments quietly approved Neoga Lakes and Old Brick, then for sure they won’t vote for DeLorenzo. Not that Mr. Cross does not concern me as well with his Tea Party suspected roots.
    Regarding the fact that DeLorenzo lives here and raises his family here. …well, well so do some of the same developers so detrimental with the above mentioned blunders like Bob De Vore Landmark (his promises to repair and reopen the Matanzas Golf Course in 2008) and the head of Lighhouse Developer as well as I recall, as DeLorenzo very involved in all the government addressing commissions they can in this county. Flagler County and Palm Coast have been very profitable for some getting paid by semi-private COC, FE or government jobs that address all the time and get very creative about how many more taxes they can esquiz from us. For sure DeLorenzo will be endorsed by COC as his wife is their executive assistant. Needles to say FE as well .Conflict of interest…naaah. Regarding DL being nice….not exactly my experience with him or wife. I understand many others in this business community experienced likewise.

  10. rob says:

    A third candidate is needed is correct.
    Presently, the choice is between the lesser of two potential evils.

    Choice one, is a pro developer councilman.
    Unchecked development is what has this city in its unpleasant state of affairs. Most don’t realize the dire circumstance that the city is in. And it is not getting better.

    Choice two is an (alleged) associate of the tea party. This selection will be something akin to being poked in the eye with a stick. We have seen how these teabaggers operate. Watch their poster child Rick Scott. This city does not need more of the same types of policies and agendas.

    The terms of these councilors are a bit too long. Terms should be 3 not 4 years. If by chance one is re-elected they will have served for almost a decade.

  11. Dorothea says:

    Justice for All and palmcoaster, you go at Jason Delorenzo with great gusto because his job is spokesperson for the Home Builders Association. However, neither of you address the issues that I have raised about his opponent. Do you really believe that a tea party backed candidate is preferable? Check out what is happening with Governor Scott and other state governments throughout the US controlled by this radical right group. Now you really want to bring the radical right activity to a local level with pink slips for public employees and more unemployment, plus the degradation of needed public works projects.

    While I remain ambivelant about future building, it does bring jobs back to Flagler County. The proposed Old Brick Road project, not due for completion for 30 years, will do just that. It’s located near the northernmost I-95 interchange and therefore a good spot for commuting. If you want jobs and job availability, you have to take your pick. Encourage business or stagnate with our current unemployment rate.

    Is the Neoga Lakes even in Palm Coast?

  12. palmcoaster says:

    Dorothea did I say I will vote for Cross?No, I said we need a third candidate running here. Wow you are a DeLorenzo cheerleader.

  13. Dorothea says:

    Palmcoaster, I didn’t mean to come across as a cheerleader for Delorenzo. What I am is someone following the tea party’s devasting plans enacted across our state and country, and now know they are gearing up to take over local governments. Call me a tea party watcher if you wish, not a cheerleader. I am far more in fear of their ultra-right wing agenda, financed by big corporations, than I fear the proposed development of Palm Coast, which, as an added benefit, will bring in more jobs, not public employee pink slips.

  14. Will says:

    To those knocking DeLorenzo: I suggest going to meetings and forums to get acquainted with Jason. Yes, he works for the Home Builder as their government relations person – so IT”S HIS JOB to address both issues and office holders about matters of importance to his employer and to the business community. In that process, he’s learned a lot about local government and cares about the community enough to run for office, hoping to make a contribution with his time and knowledge. He does not own a big company or have a hidden agenda. If you get to know him, I think you’ll agree he’s a well qualified candidate.

    And to those who claim to see a conflict of interest, I think you’re mistaken. Because Jason’s wife is the Executive VP of the Chamber, people are taking extra care that Chamber not endorese, OR seem to endorse any candidate, regardless of how people may vote in the privacy of the voting booth. And people who criticize the Chamber for perceived wrongs of the past might also take a look at the Chamber today. Times and priorities have changed, and over 800 of your neighbors are members who are trying to make this a stronger better community.

  15. Donald Hoskisn says:

    Once again thh power of money has raised its ugly head. Just goes to show that the developers are only interested in making money and not preserving our unique ecosystems.
    I just hope theh voterrs wil remember how this happened four years from now.

  16. palmcoaster says:

    The chamber today sure is not any better than before, to the contrary in many instances was much better in the 90’s when then had even, more members. Today’s dwindling membership numbers attest of that.
    Promoting outsourcing and unfair competition against its own members and doing little and nothing to effectively propel most businesses members, “except their few chosen elite one’s” is what takes place more than ever before now. Leave your elite circle Will, get yourself informed and find out from the other 8,100 businesses still operating in this county that are not COC members, what is their opinion about it.

  17. sandy walters says:

    DCA did not do much, but it was all we (residents and taxpayers) had to act as gatekeeper between local officials, under the thumb of development interests, and total annihilation. when you people voted for Chrome-Dome as governor, you made certain that the people lost what little voice we had. I hope you are happy with the inevitable outcome. And that goes double for those who helped to kill amendment Four. It was our only chance. Now it, too, is dead and buried while companies like St. Joe do the happy dance.

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