The Planning Process

Saving Special Places • Building Better Communities

Planning for a Better Tomorrow

Comprehensive Planning in Florida

July 2021:  Check out 1000 Friends’ new Model Property Rights Element

Vibrant cities, towns and neighborhoods with a range of housing choices. A range of transportation options for those who want to walk, bicycle, drive or take transit and not get stuck in traffic. Protected natural and agricultural lands. Clean and abundant drinking water. Sparkling rivers and springs for swimming and kayaking. Many Floridians would agree that these are some of the features that make our state a special place.

But as Florida continues to grow, these and other attributes are increasingly threatened. Instead, today’s reality includes sprawling auto-dependent development with congested roads, toxic algae, water shortages, and more.

Planning for a Better Tomorrow

How can we protect Florida’s quality of life for ourselves and for future generations? Since its founding in 1986, 1000 Friends has firmly believed that citizens must play an active role in their communities’ planning process in order to create sustainable, vital and livable communities. Included on this page are some resources for the “citizen planner.”

Recognizing the impacts of population growth, Florida law requires each county and municipal government to adopt and maintain a Local Comprehensve Plan with state and regional plans. These plans are intended to:
• Guide and control future development.
• Overcome existing problems and deal effectively with future problems that may result from the use and development of land.
• Preserve, promote, protect, and improve the public health, safety, comfort and good order.
• Protect human, environmental, social, and economic resources.
Local comprehensive plans include a series of required Elements dealing with capital improvements, future land use, transportation, sanitary sewer, solid waste, drainage, potable water and natural groundwater aquifer recharge, natural resource conservation, recreation and open space, housing, coastal management, and intergovernmental coordination. A series of goals, objectives, and specific policies outlines how the local government will accomplish the intent of the element. Each local comprehensive plan, in concept, becomes the local government’s “constitution” for controlling and directing the type and amount of development allowed or encouraged in that community.

As part of its local comprehensive plan, each local government must adopt a Future Land Use Map (FLUM) that shows the “proposed distribution, location, and extent of the various categories of land” that the community has included in its local comprehensive plan.

If a local government desires to change its patterns of future growth or to allow a proposed development that is inconsistent with the current plan it must make an Amendment to the local comprehensive plan. It may amend the plan at any time over the course of the year through either a small-scale amendment process for parcels of land 10 acres and smaller, or one of two large-scale amendment processes (expedited or state-coordinated) for parcels greater than 10 acres. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity provides information on the process, timeline and required public hearings associated with amending local comprehensive plans.

Citizen Planners

A far more effective strategy to bring about positive change in your community is to be a citizen planner and get involved early in the process rather than after plans have been adopted and development orders issued. It’s important to do your homework by understanding the planning process, getting copies of any official documents on the project, meeting with planning staff, meeting with the developers, getting expert input, developing a contact list of people who can help, and preparing a written statement outlining your concerns. The next step is to build support by working with a local smart growth advocacy group, identifying possible supporters, developing your message, generating grassroots support, and getting the media involved. Finally, participate in the process. Maintain a calendar of important dates, meet with local elected officials early in the process and encourage other supporters to do likewise, submit written comments, speak at public hearings and workshops and, if you wish to challenge a plan amendment, pay attention to legal deadlines. Equally important, work to promote positive changes to your community planning documents and support effective candidates for office at the local, state and federal levels.

Citizen Planners

UPDATE:  During the Spring of 2020, citizen participation procedures were disrupted due to safety concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. In “normal” circumstances, Florida’s planning process allows citizens to voice their concerns and comments about growth and development proposals in their communities face-to-face with decision makers in public hearings. But amid the pandemic, in-person gatherings were considered unsafe. 1000 Friends of Florida has closely followed local governments’ shift to using communications media technologies (CMTs) in counties and municipalities across the state. We heard from members who saw the rapid implementation of virtual meeting technologies such as Zoom or Go-To-Webinar in their communities (see the survey results here). We were notified about instances where citizen participation procedures were left out of new governing procedures. We created this Best Practices for Citizen Participation in Community Planning to advise citizen advocates and local government leaders how to ensure meaningful public participation opportunities are preserved or enhanced during times when in-person meetings are considered unsafe.

Six months later, we’ve learned of creative approaches to effective citizen engagement through virtual and hybrid means in local governments across the state. Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic shares examples of modern tools and practices offering expanded participation options. We will be learning lessons from this period of history for months and years to come and believe some of these adaptations should be here to stay for the long-term betterment of civic engagement.

Citizen Planning Bill of Rights

1000 Friends of Florida also encourages citizens to advocate that their local governments adopt a Citizen Planning Bill of Rights to create a more equitable and participatory local planning process in Florida’s communities. This bill provides that the developer of a new project prepares a citizen participation plan, notifies nearby property owners and neighborhoods, and conducts citizen workshops to obtain public input. Proposed plan amendments cannot be revised in the seven business days prior to the advertised public hearing, giving all parties ample opportunity to review the document to be discussed. It also requires a supermajority vote for major comprehensive plan amendments and land development reviews, or to amend or repeal the Planning Bill of Rights. It also includes a “no free density” provision meaning that rural and agricultural lands shall only be converted to urban uses in exchange for significant public benefit. The Citizen Planning Bill of Rights also can include other provisions that meet the specific needs of individual communities.

Legal Advocacy

Due to changes in state law over the last decade, it is increasingly difficult to mount a successful citizen challenge of a local comprehensive plan amendment. But since its inception,1000 Friends has championed more than five dozen major administrative and appellate cases which have supported the rights of citizens to enforce comprehensive plans, established the concept that land has a “carrying capacity,” expanded the legal requirements for agencies to consider secondary impacts of development on the environment, confirmed the legal primacy of local comprehensive plans with development orders, and fought against regressive private property rights initiatives. Here is a synopsis of some of these cases and their ramifications.
Legal Advocacy

These are some of the criteria used by 1000 Friends when determining whether to participate in a legal challenge. It is important to note that on June 28, 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 7103, which includes a provision subjecting anyone who challenges a development order as inconsistent with a comprehensive plan and loses to pay the legal fees of the winner. 1000 Friends’ Legal Advocacy Committee will be compelled to consider this significant new financial risk in weighing whether to file such consistency challenges. This new factor could lead us to revise or supplement the questions we ask to determine whether or not to initiate or join legal action.


Lake Pickett North: A Citizen Advocacy Success Story

In 2016, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners voted to deny a massive proposed development outside of the Urban Services Area, providing a major victory for both the environment and for the citizen advocates who led the charge.

Speak Up: Environmental Advocacy with Senator Bob Graham

Senator Graham and others discuss techniques to upgrade the quality and impact of your advocacy to become a more effective champion for Florida’s natural resources. While this focuses on funding for Florida Forever, it provides valuable guidance for advocacy on many issues.

Citizens Organizing for Positive Community Change

See how citizens in Florida can organize for positive community change through mobilizing, building coalitions, working with the media, persuading elected officials and more. Also, check out Sierra Club Florida information on putting on press events, including a written overview, sample press advisory, sample press release and Spitfire’s Smart Chart to help you organize your campaign.