- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2001

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has two political problems on his hands. One is due to the success of the Democrats propaganda claiming he stole the presidential election for his brother by disenfranchising blacks. The other is his own doing: injudicious budget cutting and favors for irresponsible developers.
Voters in the Florida Panhandle voted Republican by a 2-to 1 margin. Their reward? Mr. Bushs budget recommends terminating the Dog Fly Eradication Program in Bay, Gulf and Walton counties.
The dog fly is carried into coastal regions of the Panhandle by north winds during August and the fall. The flies swarm and bite, but are easily controlled by a designer pesticide. When the fly is around, people are driven from the beaches and outdoor activities into their homes and hotel rooms. To save $150,000, Jeb is angering Republican voters and tourist-dependent Republican businesses.
The governor is making even more serious mistakes with his velvet favors for developers. Florida newspapers are accusing him of weakening the Florida Department of Environmental Policy in order to reward his developer friends.
The state has a coastal construction setback line, but it means nothing, as variances are routinely granted to build seaward of the line. Buildings set too far seaward interfere with the wind actions that build protective dunes. Such buildings also suffer more storm damage and cause more costly insurance rates for everyone.
Florida has also passed a law for which Gov. Bush is blamed, rightly or wrongly. The law permits developers to sue government jurisdictions for actions that developers believe reduce their property values. Ostensibly, the laws purpose was to prevent "takings." In practice, it has become a weapon for developers to use to override existing zoning restrictions, neighborhood plans and county comprehensive plans that regulate land use, residential-commercial use, density and height of structures.
Developers are trying to invade coastal communities, consisting of single-family housing, that are protected by neighborhood and comprehensive plans. When their proposals for constructing high-density high-rise condos in single-family neighborhoods are rejected by planning and county commissions, the developers file lawsuits. Often to avoid suits, the county governments abandon the communities and permit them to be destroyed.
The way the law is working out, only Johnny-come-lately developers have property rights. Long-time residents, who bought into a community or neighborhood when they purchased their homes, have none.
The result has been to give libertarian and conservative "property rights advocates" a bad name along the Florida Panhandle coast. As property-rights advocates are associated with the Republican Party, the party is getting a bad name. A faulty and ill-considered law is turning Republican voters against Jeb Bush.
Republicans have a poor understanding of peoples environmental concerns. So do environmentalists. Environmentalists think people are only concerned with preserving vast tracts of land in national parks and monuments. In fact, people are more concerned with preserving their communities against road widening and high-density development.
Birds and wildlife are abundant in many communities of moderate density. Panhandle communities are accustomed to eagles, and sea turtles still nest on the beaches. All this is threatened by Gov. Bushs payoff to developers.
I have learned there are two kinds of developers: responsible and irresponsible. The former build livable communities, and the latter destroy them. Mr. Bush needs to ally himself with the former and to restrain the latter.
The Panhandle with its bays, creeks, lakes and rivers has a tremendous amount of wetlands. People now fear that the recent U.S. "Republican" Supreme Court ruling concerning an Illinois gravel pit means developers will now try to fill and develop protected wetlands.
The Supreme Court ruling was a necessary response to an overly aggressive U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Engineers, who formerly built dams, found a new life in wetlands regulation and have extended their regulatory reach so far as to include mud puddles. This overreaching has produced a court ruling that will now encourage irresponsible developers to overreach in the opposite direction.
To find and keep a balance is difficult. If Gov. Bush doesnt establish a better balance between developers and communities, Florida is going to have fewer Republican voters.

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