Your county’s solution to housing glut: more houses
Having seen the Tampa area featured in The New Yorker as America’s prime example of greedy, wrongheaded leadership driving us off the cliff of economic disaster, let’s take a look at how our county commissioners propose to lead us out of this mess shown in this New Yorker video as “ground zero of the foreclosure crisis.”
Near the end of their meeting last Wednesday, the commissioners discussed their ideas for how to get us out of the hole they helped dig. Four of them think the solution is to keep digging. Faster.
Incredibly, four of the seven commissioners — Jim Norman, Ken Hagan, Kevin White & Al Higginbotham — see the solution to our housing glut as MORE housing. And all the new strip malls and office buildings sitting around vacant? Yep, they want to see MORE of that commercial stuff built, too. And fast.
They want to deregulate development. It’s what they always want to do. When the housing bubble was booming they used that as an excuse to push for less oversight, and now that the bubble has burst, they’re trying to declare an “economic state of emergency” as a way to toss out the rules that manage growth and protect the environment. They claim that deregulation will stimulate more building.
The deregulation push has 3 major goals:
Deregulation goal 1: speed up building permitting.
So when we get MORE vacant buildings dragging our property values down, those new buildings will be less carefully reviewed—and possibly built to lower standards.
Commissioner Norman led this charge on Wednesday, with panicky fear-mongering. In one rant, calling for county government to get out of the way of developers and “streamline things beyond belief,” Norman used the phrase “state of emergency” SEVEN times in 14 sentences.
Hopping on the developer-giveaway bandwagon, Commissioners Hagan & White both brought up the complaints they received during the boom years that developers weren’t getting their building permits fast enough. They joined Commissioner Norman in demanding that staff push new building permits out faster, apparently clueless that the boom years are over, and now hundreds of permits are laying around already approved, waiting to be picked up by developers who no longer want to pay for those permits to build more stuff that nobody wants to buy anymore.
Peter Aluotto, director of Planning & Growth Management tried to explain:
“WE LOOKED AT THE NUMBER OF BUILDING PERMITS THAT WE’VE ALREADY APPROVED AND ARE WAITING TO BE PICKED UP. APPROXIMATELY 236 ARE RESIDENTIAL AND 20 ARE COMMERCIAL. WE REGARD THESE AS APPROVED INVENTORY, WHICH AT CURRENT ABSORPTION RATES REPRESENTS A TWO-MONTH SUPPLY. … LACK OF DEMAND HAS CAUSED MANY DEVELOPERS TO SUSPEND THEIR PLANS INDEFINITELY. INDEED, THE NUMBER OF REQUESTS FOR PROJECT TIME EXTENSIONS ON UNSTARTED PROJECTS IS INCREASING. THIS INDICATES TO US THAT BUILDING ACTIVITY IS NOT LIKELY TO IMPROVE ANYTIME SOON.”
The commissioners completely ignored the fact that the efficiency of our permitting process is not a real issue at this time.
Sounding like a genius among lunatics, Commissioner Sharpe said we can’t keep following the same failed policies that got us into this mess:
“I WENT TO A CONFERENCE NOT TOO LONG AGO AND I HEARD THAT, YOU KNOW, DON’T WORRY, THE OLD FLORIDA WILL BE BACK, WE’LL BE BACK TO BUILDING, YOU KNOW, THE SUBDIVISIONS AND STRIP MALLS. THAT’S NOT THE SOLUTION. … IF WE JUST RUSH THROUGH PERMITS AND WE START BUILDING EVERYWHERE AGAIN, BUILDING WHERE THERE’S NO DEMAND OR BUILDING WHERE WE’RE NOT PLANNING ON FOLKS TO GO, THEN WE’RE GOING TO CREATE NEW PROBLEMS …
“… WE ARE IN A CRISIS. WHAT I AM SAYING, THOUGH, IS THE SOLUTION IS NOT GOING TO BE MORE OF THE SAME. WHAT’S SO FRUSTRATING IS WE KEEP DOING THE SAME THING OVER AND OVER AND THINKING WE’RE GOING TO GET A DIFFERENT OUTCOME, AND WE’VE GOT TO DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY.”
Sharpe has long stressed the need for us to diversify our business base so that we are not so economically dependent on the building industry. His vision for future growth includes building infrastructure and focussing growth efficiently around transit systems:
“WE’RE GOING TO PROVIDE A SOLUTION, WHICH WILL HOPEFULLY BE TRANSPORTATION ALONG WITH AN EMPHASIS ON EDUCATION AND WORKFORCE, AND THE AREAS BEING ALONG WHERE YOU’LL HAVE THE MOBILITY SYSTEMS, WHETHER IT’S THE BUS RAPID TRANSIT OR POTENTIALLY, IF THE ALTERNATIVE ANALYSIS BEARS OUT, A — AN ACTUAL RAIL LINE. THAT’S WHERE THE GROWTH IS GOING TO GO”
Norman dismissed Sharpe’s vision as too long-range, launching another panicky rant and bullying Sharpe by claiming the Governor as an ally in a “State of Emergency” relief package of deregulation for developers.
Deregulation goal 2: eliminate “concurrency” rules.
Concurrency rules say there must be sufficient infrastructure capacity—enough roads, water, schools, police, etc.—before developers can build more stuff.
Norman, who has filed to run for state Senate in 2010, is intimately involved with the state legislators who are right now trying to repeal concurrency rules statewide, claiming this will “stimulate growth.” Our county commissioners are setting us up to toss out our growth controls so developers can build whatever, wherever, even if their projects will overwhelm our roads and schools.
Deregulation goal 3: weaken environmental protections.
In the new Gang of Four, Higginbotham is the new Blair. Having stepped into former Commissioner Brian Blair’s role as chair of the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC), Al Higginbotham is already calling for further “streamlining” of our wetlands protections. Last Wednesday he directed County Administrator Pat Bean to “expedite” EPC permitting.
Although Higginbotham declared he was satisfied at the time with the compromises recently handed to special interests in the contentious Hybrid “streamlining” of EPC permitting processes, he now seems to feel we did not give developers enough of the deregulation they incessantly clamor for.
Earth to commissioners: Deregulation of the building industry can’t stimulate any more building in a market that is already insanely overbuilt. And even if it worked, the cure would be worse than the disease.
If they really wanted to come up with local solutions to our local economic woes, commissioners would talk to other industries in addition to the building industry—talk to bankers to figure out how to get cash flowing through local banks again; talk to local business owners to come up with ways to encourage local spending in their markets, and encourage them to hire. But these commissioners only seem to listen to the same handful of developer-cronies who helped get them elected. And those guys just want to get all our pesky concurrency rules and environmental protections out of the way now, so they’ll be ready for the day they can crank up the bulldozers and concrete mixers and re-start the sprawl machine.
Last Wednesday, our commissioners voted unanimously to direct staff to work with developers and find ways to deregulate their industry.