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Is Florida Planning Away Its Prosperity?

By January 19, 2010No Comments

January 19, 2010

In their descriptions of legislative attempts to help fix Florida’s property rights problems and jumpstart Florida’s economy, some environmental advocates and members of the news media have “spun” these actions as “gutting” Florida’s growth management system.  Citizens must keep in mind that the term “growth management” is simply an artfully-employed political turn of phrase designed to keep the focus off individual freedom, personal liberty and the importance of private property rights.

What did we have prior to Florida’s increasingly burdensome Growth Management system?  Freedom.

Land owners had the freedom to build their individual dreams.

What will occur if lawmakers restore freedom by removing the layers and layers of regulation strangling Florida’s economy? We will again unleash the potential of the human spirit to dream and to build.

Currently in Florida, there are at a minimum over a dozen large-scale land owners who have brought forward their ideas for improving their land. In planner-speak, their dreams have been labeled “D.R.I.s” or developments of regional impact.  These dreams potentially represent billions of dollars of future economic investment in our state, tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in future taxable property value, IF their plans are approved. However, to land owners, the multi-year, multi-million dollar D.R.I. approval process generally equates to “dreams restricted indefinitely.”

Given Florida’s economy, one would think that local and state officials would be actively engaged in removing impediments to known economic opportunities. The dreams of these land owners are well-known. Some have been languishing in the tar-pit which is Florida’s land use planning system for several years.

With Florida’s anticipated state revenue shortfalls this year and in subsequent years, the potential for lawmakers to trigger significant statewide increases in taxable property value at the same time they are actively restoring freedom and the dreams of individuals would seem a “no-brainer.”

Florida’s multi-layered system of anti-property rights regulations is working. The dreams of private property owners are being very effectively curtailed every day in Florida, to the detriment of the ideal of individual freedom and our economy. The lost opportunity costs are staggering and will continue unless reforms are passed.

To understand how absolutely insane regulation has become, one need only sit for a few hours in almost any planning and zoning meeting in the state in which future land use label change applications are heard.  One would think these forums were criminal courts, as property owners are now treated like criminals for having the audacity to work hard, acquire property and seek to take the risk of investing private capital to improve their land.  Members of these local planning commissions should wear uniforms to more appropriately reflect the dramatic increase in the police power of the state over land use, which they exercise regularly in denying perfectly reasonable land use applications and in killing the economy opportunities pursued by fellow citizens.

Land owners can now find their dreams denied for reasons so flimsy and baseless that they would not be believable if this didn’t occur every day.  Those who do not desire or cannot afford to litigate are simply stripped of the right to pursue the use of their land.

One would think that a national recession and double-digit unemployment rates might shift the attitude of these citizen panels, but this writer has not witnessed any change in these anti-property rights environments where it is anyone’s guess as to whether or not a land use application will be found “consistent” or not.

Florida’s Growth Management laws now allow these citizen panels to require as much as 65% and 70% “open space” to be set aside if a land owner desires to use their land. Consider the implications of this overlay, if applied to your single family lot. (How would you like seven other citizens deciding you should be prohibited from using two-thirds of your home?) In some areas, simply changing a few words in the local comprehensive plan or a label or color-code on a land use map, results in the denial of land use rights. Some of the discussions occuring when land use maps are changed are so absurd as to be farsical. It equates to adults coloring in a coloring book and as a group debating what colors will go where. But the ramifications for Florida are extraordinary. These shifting labels often represent the denial of individual dreams and the loss of tens of thousands and even millions of dollars in future economic revenue.

Land use in Florida prior to the adoption these draconian policies may have been imperfect, as are many of the decisions made in a free society. Government’s reaction to the exercise of private property rights may also have been imperfect, as many actions of government are. However, at least the opportunity to use land in the pursuit of your dream effectively existed.  In Florida’s current kangaroo court system, dreams are denied left and right based on personalities and the personal viewpoints of a handful of individuals.

It is the contention of this writer, that any land use application in Florida can be found “consistent” or “inconsistent” – which means Florida land owners are subjected to the “whims” of the individuals reviewing their applications.

Anyone who has witnessed the arbitrary nature of how comprehensive plans are developed should recognize these laws provide no protection to the affected property owners. It is a completely arbitrary process, where citizens’ panels charged with creating new labels and restrictions bandy about figures as if these numbers did not affect anyone’s private land or private investments.  What we have now is effectively a “SimCity” environment which has converted once private land to publicly-planned acreages.  Florida’s current land use laws now empower legions of petty dictators who sit on these boards and sanctimoniously kill the dreams of other citizens.

These planning commissions impact Florida’s economy at every meeting.

A few years ago, the Coalition for Property Rights lobbied aggressively for changes in Florida law, in order to protect Florida land owners from the results of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision which eroded historical protections afforded to those whose homes or properties were taken through eminent domain.  The Supreme Court decision which empowered government to take private property and to transfer it to other private parties (“Trading up” to increase tax revenue) was wrong. There are rights and wrongs in public policy and many times we forget this simple principle. It was wrong to use the police power of government to take private property from one owner and to give it to another.

The current empowerment of citizen panels over private property rights at the local level in Florida is equally wrong.

When no potential threat to the public’s health or safety exists, it is wrong to deny any land owner in Florida the inherent rights of ownership. It is wrong to convert private land to public property without compensating the owner for this taking. Yet, under Florida’s draconian land use laws, this is occurs every week, because the land owner/applicant may have a dream for their property that is not the dream of the panel reviewing their request or even unrelated third parties who attend the hearing to protest their application. Whenever this opinion occurs, their dreams are not surprisingly found “inconsistent” with the comprehensive plan.

On this day, their dream may be denied, be delayed, or be substantially altered with their coerced consent so that they do not risk losing their entire investment. When this occurs, a spark of ambition has just been extinguished in their hearts and the impact will be felt in our state economy.

It is a fundamental truth that human beings work hardest when they are each actively pursuing their own dreams. This is the fundamental reason why property rights are so often equated with prosperity. When an individual has the opportunity to own land and to build up their socioeconomic situation, they generally will. Land without the opportunity to use it, is not truly privately-owned land. The value of owning land is intrinsically tied to its use.

By refusing to reform state planning policies, Florida is most assuredly following California’s fiscal path. In choosing centralized planning over property rights, we are planning the end of our prosperity.


If you are a Florida property owner whose freedom has been diminished and whose property has been devalued under Florida’s current land use regulations, we invite you to join CPR and help us work to change the status quo.  Join today. Help reframe and reclaim the debate over land use rights in Florida.  If private property rights and individual economic freedom are important to you, make the commitment today to support these values. Become a member online at or by calling 407-481-2289 for more information about individual or corporate sponsorship.

Reader responses welcomed!

Carol Saviak
Executive Director
Coalition for Property Rights
2878 S. Osceola Avenue
Orlando, FL 32806
407-481-0834 fax

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