Community Planning

Saving Special Places • Building Better Communities

Community Planning in Florida

Vibrant and equitable cities, towns and neighborhoods with a range of housing choices. Transportation options for those who want to walk or bicycle safely, 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 special.

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.

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 to support sustainable, equitable and livable communities.

The Community Planning Process

Many people start to engage in their community’s planning process when the property next door is up for rezoning and they are concerned about the impacts on their property.  But this is late in the process.  The system in Florida starts with the community’s adopted local comprehensive plan, Future Land Use Map, and other documents that serve as the local government’s “constitution” for controlling and directing the type and amount of development allowed or encouraged in that community.

At the next level are the community’s ordinances – or land development regulations – which relate to the subdivision of land, zoning, and other tools for implementing the comprehensive plan.  Next comes the development order, which includes actions like rezoning, subdividing or allowing a variance on a specific parcel of land.

Public participation is essential in this process.  And the earlier you get involved in the process, the greater your ability to make a difference.  Below is more information on the planning process in Florida, and the role you can play.

Transportation Planning in Florida

Transportation policies and plans play a tremendous role in shaping our communities and state. Efficient transportation systems and thoughtful urban design are critical to developing growth patterns that promote environmental and economic sustainability. Florida’s historical land-use pattern of low-density suburban development has had profound impacts on our environment, increased the use of nonrenewable energy, devalued our inner cities, impacted our health, and isolated our communities.

1000 Friends encourages innovative transportation and land-use solutions that provide a greater range of transportation options and help create more livable communities.We believe that improving roads and providing transportation alternatives “where the people are” is the highest and best use of transportation dollars. This involved investing valuable state dollars in maintaining and enhancing existing state road systems rather than building new ones.

Public Participation

Public policy is shaped by those who participate in the process.  To this end, local and state government are legally obligated to provide opportunities for public participation. 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 COVID-19 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.  As an update, 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 Planners

To bring about positive change in your community become a citizen planner.  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. 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 when allowed, submit written comments, speak at public hearings and workshops and, if you wish to challenge a plan amendment, pay attention to legal deadlines and requirements. 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

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.

Model Property Rights Element

We are pleased to share with you 1000 Friends of Florida’s Model Property Rights Element, prepared in conjunction with faculty at the University of Florida. This model element is in accordance with the provisions of SB 59 (Fla. Stat. § 163.3177(6)(i)), passed during the 2021 Florida Legislative Session, signed into law by Gov. DeSantis, and incorporated into Florida’s Community Planning Act. The document is also available in a word version to copy and paste.

Now, every city and county in Florida shall “include in its comprehensive plan a property rights element.” Your city or county must adopt this new element “by the earlier of the date of its adoption of its next proposed plan amendment that is initiated after July 1, 2021, or the date of the next scheduled evaluation and appraisal of its comprehensive plan.”

1000 Friends of Florida believes that open and transparent decision-making is the best protection for property rights. We have long advocated for the rights of all people to contribute to local government planning. Engaged citizens improve their neighborhoods. Our quality of life is enhanced, our environment is protected, and our communities are strengthened when local government planning respects the rights of everyone. Public participation leads to more thoughtful and enduring planning and builds more public support for plans.

Legal Advocacy

Since its inception in 1986, 1000 Friends of Florida has championed more than five dozen major administrative, appellate and Florida Supreme Court growth management legal cases with statewide significance. Here is a synopsis of some of these cases and their ramifications.

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.  The 2023 legislative session exacerbated these hurdles with the passage of SB 540.  The bill narrows the basis for a comprehensive plan amendment challenge to density and intensity of use, and establishes a basis for the recovery of attorney fees to the prevailing party rather than requiring each party to bear their own fees and costs.  This change makes it difficult to bring a challenge without facing considerable financial risk.  

Legal Advocacy
Preempting Local Government Authority in Florida

1000 Friends of Florida Policy & Planning Director Jane West, Florida League of Cities Deputy General Counsel Rebecca O’Hara, and Florida Association of Counties Executive Director Ginger Delegal discussed the impacts of inappropriate preemption and the need for more proactive advocacy to counter the problem.

Developing a Property Rights Element for Your Community

1000 Friends Policy & Planning Director Jane West and University of Florida Master of Urban and Regional Planning Online Program Director Thomas Hawkins shared 1000 Friends of Florida’s model property rights ordinance and its provisions. 1000 Friends of Florida Outreach Director Haley Busch provided an overview of strategies to encourage robust citizen participation in the adoption of this element and the overall planning process. See 1000 Friends’ Model Property Rights Element

Understanding Land Use and Growth Management Planning in Florida

Florida’s process of managing growth has evolved considerably over the years. This webinar focuses on the current process related to comprehensive planning and rezonings. 1000 Friends of Florida President Paul Owens provides an introductory overview of planning in Florida. Professor of Law at the Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University Richard Grosso discusses Florida’s comprehensive planning and rezoning processes and covers legal options for citizens and local governments, including participating in quasi-judicial hearings, determining burden of proof, determining standing to file a challenge, building a record for a challenge, and more. 

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.

Trouble in Paradise

With leadership from the late Nathaniel Pryor Reed, 1000 Friends of Florida, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Defenders of Wildlife, Florida Defenders of the Environment, Florida Springs Council, Florida Springs Institute, Florida Wildlife Corridor, Florida Wildlife Federation and League of Women Voters of Florida have released Trouble in Paradise. This report shares with Florida elected officials and candidates for office six key environmental issues facing our state and overarching strategies to address them.  We hope you will read this report, view the broadcast and take action to make a difference.

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.