• New Florida Growth Management Law (Community Planning Act, House Bill 7207) Challenged by the Town of Yankeetown, Florida
  • September 7, 2011 | Author: Brian M. Seymour
  • Law Firm: Gunster - West Palm Beach Office
  • This year, the state of Florida significantly changed its growth management policies with the passage of the Community Planning Act (House Bill 7207).  The Town of Yankeetown, Florida has filed suit claiming that the new law is unconstitutional and seeking to stop its enforcement.  What is the crux of the lawsuit and how could it impact Florida growth management?

    On June 2, 2011, Florida changed the way it handled Growth Management, putting more control over local issues in the hands of the local government.  The new legislation, House Bill 7207 (known as the “Community Planning Act”), was supported by a broad range of groups from the Association of Florida Community Developers to the Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties.  The law was decried by some in the anti-development community.  Now, the Community Planning Act has been challenged in court.

    The Town of Yanketown, Florida recently filed suit asking the courts to declare the Community Planning Act unconstitutional and stopping its enforcement.  Although the suit maintains several alleged violations, they can generally be boiled down to three issues: (1) the law contained too many subjects and was not properly titled, (2) there are vague terms in the law, and (3) the provision against public referenda on comprehensive plan amendments violates Yankeetown’s Charter.  By a reading of the Complaint, it would appear that the Town should prevail; however, the Complaint does not convey all of the facts and the law is not necessarily on their side.

    Of the three issues, the question of the vague nature of the language as alleged is potentially the most complex.  However, case law provides significant leeway in words used in legislative enactments and how they are interpreted.  For example in its case, Yankeetown has alleged that the phrase “important state resources and facilities” (which is the basis for state review of certain comprehensive plan amendments) is undefined and unclear.  However, a term or phrase being undefined or not specific does not make it unconstitutionally vague.  Further, simply being subject to more than one interpretation does not violate constitutional principles.

    The phrase “important state resources or facilities” is not so unclear that is should not stand up to constitutional muster.  First, the Community Planning Act itself provides examples that can be a guide (e.g., the Everglades).  Further, while there may be some flexibility in the determination of what constitutes an important state resource or facility, the words themselves provide guidance.  A resource or facility owned by the state (e.g., certain waters and roads) or provides a broad impact is clearly a state resource or facility.  The word “important” is not unknown.  It is defined on dictionary.com as, “[O]f much or great significance or consequence.” Therefore, there is enough guidance by the plain meaning of the words, particularly in light of the examples given, of what will constitute an “important state resource or facility.”

    Overall, Yankeetown was given more authority over its own growth.  To get that autonomy, it also no longer has the state overseeing all of the growth of its neighbors.  This apparently has caused them enough concern to file this suit.  Though nobody can know how this might come out, the facts and law appear to be on the side of the state in this case.  If the suit is found to have merit, it could once again upset the direction of growth management in the state.