Santa Rosa County collection out practically a year earlier to review its land development code, the official rule book for who can develop what and when in the county.

The goal to be to have the new land advancement code finished by October. Yet the county"s planning and also zoning director, Shawn Ward, claimed what was originally a simple "editing" the the code has become a full-fledged revise and also replace. 

"In the original memo that I took to the board back in January 2019, i was asked to upgrade the land advance code and also I claimed I had actually a timeline outlined and that by the finish of the year we can do this," Ward said. "However, the more we got and the deeper we gained into it, I established that it wouldn"t be able to be perfect by the finish of the year. Every board meeting, the commissioners would say, "Hey, we"re update the land breakthrough code, have the right to we look right into that?" so what was simply an update turned right into a complete repeal and replace." 




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Ward expects the amendment land advance code come be ready for initial testimonial by the zoning plank in March, and to be adopted by the plank of ar Commissioners in April.

Some an essential changes comes to the updated land breakthrough code include the meaning of "heritage trees," exactly how many and also what type of indicators you can have on her property, and also building and also sea wall maintenance regulations. 

But together the county works to essentially develop a road map because that what it"s going to look favor in the future, how far will the plank go come implement permanent solutions to regulate growth and development?


Rewriting the original land advancement code

The initial land development code was adopted Aug. 22, 1991, once Santa Rosa County had actually a population of approximately 85,000 people. Now, that has almost 180,000 people. Ordinances have actually been changed, added and deleted due to the fact that then, but a massive rewrite the the password hasn"t to be attempted till this year. 

The land advancement code dictates all elements of what a human in the county can and can"t do with their land. It regulates zoning and also density, what kind of shrubs you can plant in your yard and just how you can advertise your business in a sign on the side of the road, among thousands of various other things.


"I think as time changes, so must the land breakthrough code," stated District 3 Commissioner Don Salter, who was very first elected come the plank in 2000. "It have to reflect the current status the the county and also the future, yet we"re going to have to make certain we"re not stepping on private property civil liberties as we work-related through the land advancement code." 


It"s that push and also pull — the one in between private building rights and ordinances the govern residential or commercial property — that"s in ~ the crux the a the majority of tension in Santa Rosa County. This was on display screen just a couple of weeks back when the plank voted 3-2 top top Nov. 14 to provide a subdivision in unincorporated Gulf Breeze that is directly surrounding to an old dump and is suspected to have contaminated groundwater. 

Liz Pavelick, a member the the citizen activist group Save our Soundside, was among those that wanted commissioners to organize off on granting the preliminary plat, citing ecological concerns. However the majority of the board insisted your hands were tied and also they had actually to approve the subdivision due to the fact that the developer met every one of the requirements under the land advancement code, and also denying the plat would certainly be a violation of the Bert Harris Act, i m sorry guarantees exclusive property rights in Florida. 

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County Commissioners have done this run at numerous meetings — a developer proposes building a subdivision the upsets inhabitants for miscellaneous reasons, and the plank looks come its attorney, Roy Andrews, who responds that if all of the land development code demands are met, the plank must approve it or hazard legal action. 

But Pavelick said there needs to be other they have the right to do. 

"If something is walking to it is in detrimental to the health and also welfare or security of other civilization living around it, why can"t you stop it?" Pavelick said.

What is the Bert Harris Act?

Commissioners have actually said for years the their hands space tied and also they"re compelled to provide all developments that accomplish the land development code requirements as result of the Bert Harris Act, a legislation that protects Florida residential or commercial property owners indigenous "inordinate burdens" ~ above their residential or commercial property rights.

The law means they"re not legally permitted to deny a building owner a plat or building and construction rights if the owner has met all of the needs of the land breakthrough code, even if commissioners desire to put a hold on the approval in order to inspection environmental problems or framework concerns. 


But what specifically is the Bert Harris Act, and also how do various other local governments in the state treat home rights in relation to this law?

The Bert Harris plot was embraced by the Florida legislative in 1995. It"s supposed to defend property owners whose civil liberties to their residential property are negatively influenced by government regulation, stated Pensacola attorney and property rights professional Will Dunaway. 

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"All things federal governments do must have actually a publicly purpose, so if the federal government wants to construct a new road and they require to have actually a best of method to build that road, after ~ providing complete compensation for the taking, that"s dubbed imminent domain," Dunaway said. "But once the federal government doesn"t take every one of your property, but "inordinately burdens" — that"s the ax of art, right here — v regulation, climate a residential or commercial property owner is licensed has been granted to some kind of compensation." 

For example, if you very own a piece of property alongside a church, and you bought the home with the will to develop a bar there and also have taken the end a $1 million loan because that construction, but then the county overcome an ordinance that there deserve to be no bars alongside churches, you might have a Bert Harris claim. 


So what is the suggest of having any type of ordinances at all, if developer could document a Bert Harris insurance claim at look at every turn?

"This was certainly a huge pressing question when local federal governments enacted the very first zoning codes. We haven"t constantly had zoning in Florida," Dunaway said. "In Florida, as soon as you drive down to areas sometimes, you"ll check out a mobile house next come a million-dollar mansion. Those space grandfathered in. 


"Local governments and counties transparent the state room enacting ordinances nearly every work that, in some ways, have a publicly purpose," that continued. "And they might or might not negatively impact a property owner ... So federal governments can relocate forward through regulations, they just need to know, if those regulations inordinately load property, be mindful that residential or commercial property owners deserve to seek simply compensation." 

Dunaway claimed he"s right now representing a property owner who has actually a Bert Harris claim versus Santa Rosa County. And that"s what commissioners space afraid of — that placing "teeth" in the land advance code would give them some regulatory authority end development, including the ability to speak "no," but it could additionally subject the county to much more lawsuits and also cost taxpayers many money. 

Planning long-term for the future

In adjacent Destin, which has experienced fast growth similar (but absolutely not identical) come Santa Rosa County, the City Council there made transforms to its structure codes in 2016 that lowered building heights and also decreased thickness for subdivisions. 

The city gained a "smattering" the Bert Harris insurance claims after the ordinances were enacted, follow to City Councilman Parker Destin, and also some of lock were eventually litigated. 

"Basically, the method the dominance is, till you have your building rights forgive — meaning you acquire your breakthrough order and also go v the process of using to acquire your advance order — and then the federal government says, "We"re an altering the rules on you," that"s as soon as you have the right to argue a Bert Harris diminution in your residential property value," Destin said. 


But the law doesn"t avoid commissioners from enacting ordinances now for not-yet-thought-of advances in the future, like conditional use approval because that subdivisions or lower thickness for housing developments. Conditional use, together opposed to current permitted use, would give commissioners the capacity to place particular conditions ~ above a new development, like lower heights or less real estate units. 

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"The county would be finest advised to be looking long-term, and also they have the right to look come their comprehensive plan and their zoning code and also then make smart decision that are not package by package specific, definition they don"t plot reactively," Dunaway said. "So, once "XYZ" agency comes in v their 120-unit subdivision, that"s not the moment to refuse it then, due to the fact that that person already has probably currently spent a the majority of money. 

"The time to execute it would be, well, when"s the ideal time to plant a tree? twenty years ago. When"s the next finest time? Today," the added. "The ideal time to do it would be come look come the future and determine whereby would be finest to emphasis our irreversible planning process so the we have the right to minimize the trouble that"s at hand, if one exists. That"s just called great planning." 

But Santa Rosa county Commissioners have indicated lock don"t setup to put any kind of long-term advance solutions in the to update land advancement code, insisting they"re hamstrung by Bert Harris and also property rights. 




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Salter, the ar 3 commissioner, stated he would certainly "see what different groups have to say" around the code, but that Santa Rosa"s property rights were paramount. 

"One that the things we take great pride in in Santa Rosa ar is private property rights," he said. "So if somebody owns the property and the zoning is in place, then they have the appropriate to build that property." 

SParker, the ar 1 commissioner, said cautiously the he would be willing to look at added "viewpoints" concerning the Bert Harris Act once determining whereby the plank would straight the land advancement code. 

"Basically, in Destin, lock said, "We can"t continue to flourish at this rate, because our infrastructure can"t take care of it," " Parker said. "And absolutely ns think that"s something for us to watch at, return we"re in a different situation than the city that Destin. There"s no shortage of soil in the main and north part of Santa Rosa County."

What will certainly the brand-new land breakthrough code address?

In regards to what is going to be contained in the update code, though, both Salter and also Parker claimed they would support procedures to much better monitor developments that room underway, like increased fines for environmental violations and an ext stringent wetlands policies, stormwater regulations and also tree ordinances. 

Pavelick claimed her team had approached the board earlier this year with a tree ordinance the they to be promised would be "fast tracked," possibly even enacted before the to update land advancement code would come out. The still hasn"t happened. 

"The old ordinance talks around how large around the trees need to be come be taken into consideration heritage trees, and also because we"re on this peninsula (in Gulf Breeze/Navarre) there"s not great enough soil for the tree to acquire that large, so none of the tree are big enough come save," she said. "When the developer come in they have the right to just cut down every the trees and also then change them with non-native plants.

"When you plant points that aren"t native to the area, wildlife doesn"t know how to respond, bird don"t eat from certain bushes or nest in details trees because they"re no native. So this whole big developments come in and also then there"s nothing left to assistance wildlife." 


Parker claimed he expects the tree ordinance readjust to be made in the to update land development code, in addition to other "antiquated language" the governs things like signage. 

"An instance of the is as soon as we developed the new code enforcement department and they started having people take down their feather flags," Parker said. "We observed the hardship that resulted in a lot of businesses, and also that to be something top top the books, the course, yet had never been implemented before. And so clearly, the county Commissioners, we voted to put a continue to be on that. That"s an instance of a lot of language we have actually that requirements to come out." 

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The commissioners are likewise considering separating the county into three part — north, main and south — to do the codes much more specific to the demands of each area that the county. 

The south end, because that instance, contains the Navarre and also Gulf Breeze areas, i m sorry have greater density areas and a more diverse environment. The north end, with locations like Jay and also Chumuckla, is much more rural and is the cradle the the county"s agriculture and farming industry. The main part includes the fast-growing Milton and also Pace areas, which are suffering from crippling framework woes. 

"I think it would certainly be extremely useful to our ar to compartmentalize as far as the land advancement code and also even code enforcement to do it where we identify we have various communities and also we don"t simply paint lock all through a broad brush," Parker said. "I would assistance that if it"s miscellaneous we can legally or feasibly do." 

The land advancement code will likewise include changes to rules governing seawall and building maintenance, life in entertain vehicles, burrow pits and more. 

The land advance code is expected to be perfect by at an early stage next year, perhaps late winter or beforehand spring. Commissioners said they"re continuing to take input from world like conserve Our Soundside, the Home building contractors Association the West Florida and others together they recognize what direction the update code will go. 

But civilization like Pavelick, who wants the code to substantially resolve growth problems that she said negatively impact existing residents, aren"t holding your breath. 

"They"re just dragging their feet, in my personal opinion," she said. "We"ve gained so few corridors left, and by castle dragging your feet ~ above this land advancement code, by the time a new one is in ar there won"t be anything left come save."