Managing Growth

Saving Special Places • Building Better Communities

Promoting a Sustainable Future

Since its inception in 1986, 1000 Friends of Florida has been the state’s leading advocate for managing growth to promote a sustainable, livable and economically healthy future for Florida. This advocacy continues today, as 1000 Friends takes the lead on issues ranging from conserving natural lands and waters, to fighting to restore citizen rights.

This page provides an overview of statewide planning in Florida.  Current information on planning at the community level, including local comprehensive plans and amendments, is included on the Community Planning page.

Managing Growth

Photo by Vivian Young

Florida’s Growth Management Odyssey:  Revolution, Evolution, Devolution, Resolution

Check out this excellent history of Florida’s growth management process.  Florida’s Growth Management Odyssey:  Revolution, Evolution, Devolution, Resolution by Bob Rhodes, published in 2020, provides a more in-depth analysis of legal requirements to manage growth in Florida.

Background on the 1985 Growth Management Act

Florida’s process of managing growth was born in the 1970s and 1980s when – much like today — the state’s population reached 1,000 new residents a day and environmental, water quality, transportation and other associated issues were paramount.

Recognizing the serious ramifications for Florida’s quality of life and economy, state leaders put in place a host of new environmental measures over those earlier decades. Beginning in 1972, the state first took serious steps to start managing the many impacts associated with rampant population growth, culminating in the 1985 passage of Florida’s landmark Growth Management Act under then-Governor Gov. Bob Graham.

The sweeping Growth Management Act required that each county and municipal government adopt a local comprehensive plan consistent with regional and state plans; established a process for the state to approve local plans and amendments; required plan content including future land use maps, capital improvement elements and others; created formal state administrative hearings for challenges and sanctions for noncompliance; enhanced citizen standing to file challenges; limited the number of most plan amendments to twice a year, and more. Further refinements were made through the early 2000s.

In 1986, a year after the passage of the Act, 1000 Friends of Florida was created to serve as a watchdog over the state’s system of managing growth, working to develop creative solutions to direct growth to the right place at the right time. Partnering with state leaders in subsequent years, 1000 Friends helped envision and launch funding and planning programs to support the Act – including conservation land acquisition under Preservation 2000 and then Florida Forever, funding for affordable housing through the Sadowski Act, the creation of Florida’s Greenways and Trails program, the initial administration of Waterfronts Florida, and more.

The 2011 Community Planning Act

Unfortunately, subsequent legislators and governors began chipping away at Florida’s efforts to manage growth, culminating with the passage of the 2011 Community Planning Act under then-Governor Scott. This 2011 Act weakened or eliminated many provisions of the 1985 Growth Management Act.

Most notably, the 2011 Community Planning Act removed important checks and balances over local planning decisions, made it more challenging for citizens to participate in the process, allowed government the option of charging taxpayers for some or all of the costs associated with new development, lessened protection of environmentally sensitive lands, and made it easier to develop rural lands which store and cleanse much of Florida’s drinking water. It restricted state and regional review of comprehensive plan amendments to “important state resources and facilities” not defined in the Act, created an expedited state review process that provided less time and ability for in-depth state review, prohibited the state land planning agency from intervening in challenges, and gave greater deference to local governments when third-party challenges did occur.

The 2011 Florida Legislature also eliminated the Florida Department of Community Affairs, making the new Department of Economic Opportunity’s Division of Community Development the state land planning agency, and significantly reduced planning staff. Also in 2011, Florida water policy was undermined by giving the Florida Legislature authority over the five water management district budgets, and eliminating requirements that local government comprehensive plans address energy-efficient land use patterns and greenhouse gas reductions.

In 2016, 1000 Friends of Florida founder Nathaniel Pryor Reed noted, “As challenging as things look now for the future of Florida, it was even more daunting in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Political corruption over land deals were rampant, the Everglades burned, untreated sewage flowed freely into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, and the concept that developers should pay their share of costs for new infrastructure was revolutionary.” Sadly today, many of the headlines are the same. Now more than ever, Florida needs to recommit to managing the impacts of growth for the benefit of current residents and future generations.
For more background on the evolution of managing growth in Florida, see Nancy Stroud’s A History and New Turns in Florida’s Growth Management Reform.

An Agenda for the 21st Century by Senator Bob Graham

Senator Graham wrote this on the occasion of 1000 Friends of Florida’s 30th anniversary in 2016. It provides guidance on reinvigorating Florida’s system of managing its growth.

From the late 1960’s until this decade, Floridians rejected the previous definition that our state was a commodity of no intrinsic value.  Instead, they recognized Florida as a unique treasure which each generation has an obligation to protect for themselves and the future. The environmental movement which fundamentally changed Floridians’ perception of themselves and the place in which they live was based on sound science supporting wise policy.

Symbolizing this was a series of Environmental Land Management Study (ELMS) Commissions, the offspring of the Everglades fires of 1970 and 1971. These fires awakened a population which had taken the Everglades for granted. Something was going wrong.  Someone needed to take control.

Graham Family

Senator Bob Graham and Family

That someone became the new governor, Reubin Askew. He established ELMS I in 1971, led by Dr. John M. DeGrove, director of the urban center at Florida Atlantic University, a knowledgeable and passionate advocate for Florida, and later co-founder of 1000 Friends of Florida.  

The bipartisan ELMS I committee members developed and presented to the Legislature a challenging reform agenda which was full throttle endorsed by Governor Askew: comprehensive water management through five regional districts; state engagement in growth management in areas of critical state concern such as the Florida Keys; and oversight of developments of regional impact including the proposed – and subsequently cancelled – mega airport in the Everglades.  Local governments would be required to develop comprehensive plans consistent with state goals. These efforts were to be financially supported by a taxpayer-approved bond issue for the purchase of land necessary for the protection of conservation land and water resources. Most of these initiatives were law by the end of the legislative session.

As Governor, I convened ELMS II in 1982, leading to passage of legislation mandating a state comprehensive plan, regional planning councils to prepare regional policy plans, greater coordination between state, regional and local plans, and the requirement that the state review and approve local comprehensive plans, with emphasis first on coastal counties. Many of these provisions were included in what is known as the 1985 Growth Management Act. The following year, I named Dr. DeGrove secretary of the newly created state Department of Community Affairs to oversee these efforts. Gov. Chiles created ELMS III in 1991, leading to a number of procedural refinements to growth management.

Then came the great recession and its political consequences.  Rather than recognizing that Florida’s economic future and its contemporary commitment to growth management and environmental protection were symbiotic, new political voices shouted that the protective environmental standards were a barrier to economic development and jobs.  This came to a head in 2011 when a legislative wrecking crew demolished almost 40 years of environmental protection.

Absent from this chapter of Florida history was the ELMS approach.   There was no thoughtful analysis of the relationship between environmental protection and economic growth.  There was little legislative consideration of the four-decade contribution of intelligent and sustained land and water policy to the most dynamic period of economic growth in Florida’s history.  Rather than the scalpel which had been used throughout that time span to modify polices as changed circumstances dictated, a sledgehammer was taken to the foundations of Florida’s quality of life-led economy.

What is needed now is a return to a thoughtful and diverse stakeholder approach to establish evolving policies necessary to manage booming population growth while maintaining Florida’s unique environmental treasures. Such a body should ask, what state policies are needed to ensure that Florida attracts quality economic development while maintaining the planet’s most attractive climate and abundant natural resources?

That is an agenda worthy of Florida’s best thinking. That is why we need 1000 Friends of Florida more than ever.