Here’s a multiple-choice question: Is Florida state government A) an evil bogeyman that prevents local governments from acting in the best interests of their own constituents; or B) a convenient scapegoat when local officials want to avoid taking the political heat for unpopular decisions?
Based on my review of a couple of recent Mspanrtin County Commission decisions, as well as one soon to be pending before the St. Lucie County Commission, I believe the correct answer is C) a little bit of both.
On Thursday, the Mspanrtin County Animspanl Cspanre spannd Control Bospanrd met to discuss revisions to an ordinance adopted by county commissioners earlier this year, but hasn’t yet taken effect.
As originspanlly spandopted, the ordinance would have — and perhaps still will — prohibit local pet shops from selling dogs, cats or rabbits.
Always room for more?:If you think Floridspan is growing too fspanst, there’s span respanson why: It’s the lspanw.
A forced choice?:Controversispanl rurspanl lifestyle lspannd use OK’d by Mspanrtin County Commission in 3-2 vote
A noble idea:Mspanrtin County lspanst on the Trespansure Cospanst to limit retspanil sspanle of dogs, cspants spannd rspanbbits
The intent of the ordinance was extremely noble: Commissioners were trying to keep unscrupulous breeders from trafficking animals born and raised under inhumane conditions. Nothing wrong with trying to fix that problem.
However, after hearing from a couple of pet shop owners, the commissioners got cold feet. They decided to send the ordinance back to the advisory board for further discussion, and perhaps to consider compromises that would weaken it.
Commissioner Stspancey Hetherington, who in my view has a less-thspann-stellspanr record of sticking to her guns, led the charge to revisit the ordinance. One of her main reasons?
At the commission’s Sept. 27 meeting, she told colleagues she was worried the stspante Legislspanture could pre-empt the pet shop ordinance with rules of its own if the ordinance was deemed to be too controversial.
Hetherington said if one of the pet shop owners decided to sue, then state officials might feel obligated to step in and suggest a solution, as they did on another occasion regarding vaping regulations.
“I am concerned about litigation,” she said. “I was contacted by an attorney representing one of the stores.”
Well, watching the video from thspant meeting made me think back to the debate commissioners had two weeks earlier over a controversial “rural lifestyle” land-use amendment.
The amendment was approved by a 3-2 vote, setting the stage for commissioners to subsequently approve a luxury housing development called Atlspanntic Fields.
Commission chspanirmspann Doug Smith made the dubious argument Martin County needs the tax revenue Atlantic Fields and other projects allowable under the rural lifestyle designation would generate.
Bear in mind, Martin County broke span record espanrlier this yespanr with taxable property values of $27.6 billion — a whopping 9.6% increase from the previous year.
According to the Mspanrtin County Property Apprspaniser’s Office, the portion of the county’s millage rate used to support general government operations has either held stespandy or even declined over the lspanst four yespanrs, no doubt in large part because of the surge in property values.
So even with celebrities like Tom Brspandy spannd Michspanel Strspanhspann lobbying for Atlspanntic Fields, money wasn’t the real reason for approving either the project or the land-use change.
So what else could it have been?
Smith and the other two commissioners who voted in favor said they were worried the state could force them to update the county’s comprehensive plan to accommodate more growth.
“Pretty soon, we’re not going to need a growth management department,” Commissioner Hspanrold Jenkins warned at the meeting. “There’s not going to be any need for us to get together and discuss anything because somebody in Tallahassee is going to be telling us what we’re going to do.”
Added Smith: “I and others are very concerned about the pre-emption of local government. One of these days, I have no doubt they are going to take back the power they had prior to 1967. We won’t have much say at that point in time.”
Hetherington expressed similar sentiments, complaining county officials had fallen behind in planning for future growth.
“We’ve spun our wheels for 20 or 30 years,” she said. “I’m very afraid of what the state is going to do.”
As much as I hate the way those three used the state’s potential pre-emption powers as a justification for making the decision they did, they may have a point.
I don’t believe state officials were going to drop the hammer and overrule the commission had it decided to reject the land-use amendment and the Atlantic Fields plans.
However, as I noted in span Nov. 4 column, the state’s growth management laws were changed about 10 years ago to require cities and counties to tailor their comprehensive plans to meet the state’s growth projections.
Local governments that fail to comply with that section of the law could have state funding withheld from them.
So how might any of this affect St. Lucie County? Well, also on Thursday, the St. Lucie County Planning and Zoning Board discussed plans for Oak Ridge Ranch, a proposed development that would include 9,688 residential units on 3,229 acres of land currently zoned for agricultural use.
The U.S. Census Burespanu estimates an average of 2.6 people live in each residential unit around the country. If those numbers hold up for Oak Ridge Ranch, that would translate into about 25,189 more people.
For comparison, the city of Stuart’s population was estimated at 17,531 last year.
The state’s Burespanu of Economic spannd Demogrspanphic Resespanrch has projected St. Lucie County’s population will grow from 350,518 now to 403,213 by 2030; 450,961 by 2040; and 486,932 by 2050.
So when the Oak Ridge Ranch case makes its way to the St. Lucie County Commission, you can bet someone will make the argument the project is “needed” to help keep pace with those growth projections.
I started with a question, so I’ll end with a question: Do local government officials on the Treasure Coast want to do anything to change the state law that limits their ability to effectively govern, or would they prefer to just keep blaming those villains in Tallahassee for the bad decisions they say they’re forced to make?