July 16, 2008

PBC Commissioners Try to Streamline Building Approval Process

By Mark Hollis, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Jul. 16--Builders in Palm Beach County have said for years that what they need from local government is a quick thumbs up or a thumbs down to their projects.

In response, county commissioners unanimously backed a change Tuesday to how and when they say "no" to builders.

The new procedures deal mainly with proposals for construction in sensitive places where growth is usually restricted, such as hurricane evacuation zones and agricultural regions.

A few critics blasted the change as a weakening of 20-year-old growth management rules.

Rosa Durando of Lake Worth, an environmentalist and member of Audubon of the Everglades, described it as a move to "emasculate all land-use planning that we've been striving for for 20 years."

"The comprehensive plan should be like a Bible to [commissioners]," added Alex Larson of Loxahatchee. "If the builder doesn't want to follow [the rules], they should be working within the policy instead of you trying to accommodate them."

But commissioners, county staff, a local builders' group, and even some environmentalists touted the change as a modest and helpful move.

The change aims to prevent controversial projects from dominating the time of county planning staff, especially when they are likely to be rejected by county commissioners or state planners as violations of growth rules.

Commissioner Mary McCarty described the change initiated Tuesday as a "quicker process" and more "streamlined" path for developers. Commissioner Burt Aaronson agreed that it would alert developers "up front" if their projects are likely to be rejected by commissioners.

Christophe Roog, governmental affairs director for the Gold Coast Builders Association, a group that represents builders in south Broward and Palm Beach counties, praised the changes. He said it helps to ensure that building projects are "treated in an efficient manner."

The proposed new county procedures would force county commissioners to make decisions sooner on whether to approve projects that violate what's known as "shall not" policies of the county comprehensive plan. Those "shall not" policies include prohibitions on increasing housing densities in hurricane evacuation areas and on commercial building in parts of the county's Agricultural Reserve, and guidelines requiring that certain kinds of commercial development connect to high-volume roads.

Mark Hollis can be reached at or 561-228-5512.


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