Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Urban Development Boundary: yesterday at the County Commission ... by gimleteye

I wish there were some way to hard-wire the facts of suburban sprawl-- and how it wrecked the economy-- to the citizens inhabiting the sad tent city outside County Hall, Occupy Miami.

Yesterday's decision at the County Commission related to moving the Urban Development Boundary was preliminary, perfunctory and perfectly illustrated the economic forces at work, destroying taxpayer value through the piecemeal subjugation of sensible planning to speculators. All those occupiers should have been upstairs in County Hall, paying attention and learning how to detect snake oil sold as "jobs!"

I haven't been to a County Commission meeting since the end of the Seijas era. Yesterday's meeting showed that in key respects, nothing has changed: democracy serves a failed model of growth and economic development.

During the building boom years, phalanxes of land use lawyers and lobbyists organized to move the Urban Development Boundary. Yesterday two were there, and one-- Miguel Diaz de la Portilla-- recited the property owner's reasons to move the line expertly as if by memory. At least for some, on the side of moving the line, the arguments are hard-wired.

In my brief testimony (that had Commissioner Joe Martinez searching for his stopwatch), I asked the commissioners to consider showing taxpayers of Miami-Dade County that the crash of housing markets-- the worst since the Great Depression-- they understood that the costs of suburban sprawl needed to be tamed, now. Now, I offered (after nearly 20 years trying to persuade them), they might start to focus taxpayer resources on improving already established communities and not continue the senseless push of sprawl and its awful costs into farmlands edging the Everglades.

Yesterday's vote was only the first step in changing the Urban Development Boundary, but it was a very important one. If the commissioners had voted to "deny" the application, the matter would have been put to rest. One might have even been able to say; a new day had dawned. At least until the next (this was the fourth time the applicant has attempted to get his project approved) cycle of applications.

The choice to "transmit"-- a decision by a 7 to 5 vote-- serves an important purpose for the speculators. What they aim to do is to test the administration of Gov. Rick Scott.

What the 'transmit' vote means is that the state will now offer its review to the commission of an application that was rejected by county planning staff and approved by the lame community council and Planning Advisory Board; mainly comprised of developer representatives. In the past, the state's position with respect to the Urban Development Boundary-- a sprawl litmus test-- has sometimes been adversarial. Even when it wasn't, citizen opponents had the opportunity to use state regulations to pursue the arguments against ill-planned developments in an administrative court. This was the case in the application to build a new Lowe's Home Improvement Store outside the UDB in 2005. (The chief shills for Lowe's on the county commission were Commissioners Joe Martinez, Pepe Diaz and Natacha Seijas.) But now the rules have changes.

In the last session of the Florida legislature, the speculators took advantage of the economic crisis to get what they wanted: the eradication of the review agency, the Florida Department of Community Affairs. What remains of its power, today, is severely limited. Local speculators are in the process of testing what the state will do, the way some people use spears to prod at sharks landed on the backside of a fishing boat to see how they will react.

The question now: will the state exercise any power to thwart the speculators? The answer is critical not just for the single property owner, but the dozens of politically powerful property owners who purchased huge tracts of land outside the UDB at speculative values before the full extent of the real estate crash unfolded. US Century Bank, Ramon Rasco and its directors, for example.

Occupy Miami protesters should pay attention because the forces at work yesterday were the local branches of the Wall Street failure. Those mortgage backed securities that blew up the economy (and on the screen of the terrific movie, "Margin Call") have a birth place: they start with zoning decisions and platted subdivisions and retail strip malls for which demand was manufactured out of ether.

On some days, the forlorn landscape of West Dade-- where the applicant's property is located-- feels empty and threatening as any post-apocaplytic science fiction fantasy. Houses are boarded up. Foreclosures are rampant. Hundreds of square acres half-built and prepped to dissolve in the wetlands under the harsh Florida sun like the dregs of a bad dream where the law is whatever anyone makes of it. One half expects Mad Max to roll up in a crazed vehicle cobbled together from scrap and fueled on waste cooking oil. That is the legacy of the housing bubble and crash in the dregs of suburbia. Yesterday the County Commission showed it still operates by the old rules. We'll see how this turns out, won't we?


Anonymous said...

Website adds up the cost of

Website adds up the costs of growth
Eric Ernst

Residential construction may have slowed, but before any city or county commissioners permit another subdivision, they should take a look at a new website.
It's called

The site, designed by the folks who brought us Amendment 4, may be the first to try to quantify the effects the last Florida housing and population boom had on water supplies and taxes.

Just click on North Port, for instance.

There, visitors will learn that the city has approved residential development that would add 345 percent to its population at build-out, putting an extra burden on a water supply already deemed to be "running low."
Not to mention that the vacancy rate for existing homes in North Port stands at 12 percent.

And just in case anyone still wants approval to build more homes, consider this: If only the ones already approved but not built materialized, it would cost North Port taxpayers $389 million for schools and $722 million for roads to support them.
Those costs would be above and beyond the expenses covered by impact fees. They would fall entirely to existing residents.

The site takes similar looks at Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties, as well as the cities of Sarasota, Bradenton and Palmetto.
Sarasota County, compared with most other jurisdictions, comes out looking pretty well prepared.

Its build-out population would be only 19 percent greater, requiring a $59 million investment in schools and $199 million for roads.

One disclaimer: the calculations do not account for subdivisions that might arise east of Interstate 75 under the county's 2050 plan.

Certainly trying to fix a dollar sign on the cost of growth is not a new concept. In 2002, Sarasota County commissioned a study by Tischler and Associates, which reported that for every $1 collected in taxes, a new single-family home cost $1.53 in government services.

Other studies, at least the ones done by credible researchers with no ties to the construction industry, have come to similar conclusions. (cont)

Anonymous said...


The website may be the first to pull together those types of numbers and present them in an easily decipherable form.

Its designers, led by Hometown Democracy advocate Janet Stanko of Jacksonville, have culled planning documents and census data from about 60 cities and counties.
They will add another 46 jurisdictions on Jan. 15, Stanko says. Amendment 4, which would have required plebiscites for some changes to zoning and comprehensive growth plans, was rejected in 2010. Even if voters recognized the affliction of unbridled growth, they didn't like the mechanism for its cure.

"After the election, we were wondering what we should do," Stanko says. "We figured that even if people didn't care about good growth, they should care about their taxes."
"In point of fact, construction is an indicator of a healthy economy, not the leader," says Amendment 4's principal driver, Lesley Blackner. "When construction, aka 'growth,' became the whole enchilada of our economy, it was doomed to fail. Construction depends on people having money they obtained from someplace else, like manufacturing or services. We don't have that in Florida. Rebooting our economy with more construction will further erode home values and dig local governments into an even bigger hole. But our political class is addicted to this system."

That's not to say all residential development should cease. It does suggest government decision-makers should view each proposal in an honest way.
If they plan to create jobs short-term by opening new land for residential development, they have to recognize that the approach does, in effect, create a long-term public subsidy.

And the people already here are the ones who will do the subsidizing. or (941) 486-3073.

Anonymous said...

the bottom line is that just because District 13 was successful at recalling Natacha Seijas, don't think you got a better commissioner. Steve Bovo is a shill. He has no back bone and never has. Expect nothing but bad votes from him and you will never be disappointed.
Way to go MDCC. Sell us out in 2011. SSDD.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Gimleteye for giving us this great information on the Commissioners vote on the UD line. You
are absolutely, correct nothing has changed.
Between 2012 and Recall we can do something about this.

Geniusofdespair said...

Thanks for looking at the big picture for our readers.