Environmentalists Call for Stronger Growth Constraints in the Panhandle

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More than 20 local and statewide environmental and community groups Thursday urged stronger growth management for the Florida Panhandle, which is in a spurt after lagging behind other parts of the state.

Twenty-two groups endorsed two resolutions that call for freezing density limits in high-hazard coastal areas, moving new development farther from the water's edge and government acquisition of coastal and other sensitive lands. They also want better enforcement and oppose any weakening of growth management regulations.

"The problem is everywhere, but it is accentuated in the Panhandle," said John Hedrick, chairman of the Panhandle Citizens Coalition. "The growth here has come a lot more recently. We're, up in the Panhandle, much more it seems like on the firing line."
Florida, Florida Wildlife Federation and 1000 Friends of Florida are among
The Florida Consumer Action Network, Audubon of organizations supporting those positions. They held news conferences in Panama City Beach, Tallahassee and Pensacola Thursday.

Most of the groups also have endorsed a resolution to begin state regulation of interior wetlands in the Panhandle, the only part of Florida now exempt. That alone would be a significant step toward controlling growth on about one million acres of wetlands, Hedrick said.

Although many of Perdido Key's 3,200 dwellings remain uninhabitable because of Hurricane Ivan damage, plans have been approved for another 3,300 units and Escambia County officials are looking for a way to lift a density cap so even more can be built.

"It would be irresponsible," said Ann Griffin, president of the Perdido Key Association. "The roads are inadequate, our beach access areas are nonexistent. There is no plan in place to fund the improvements that an additional 3,300 dwelling units are going to require."

Griffin and Navarre resident Sue Peters-Ferree, a founder of Friends of Santa Rosa County, fear Florida lawmakers may weaken growth management by shifting responsibility to local governments from the state.

Cities and counties, particularly in the Panhandle, lack growth management expertise, they said but added that the state also has been lax in enforcing existing regulations.

"We want to see growth be responsible, planned and something that can be accommodated without compromising our way of life and our quality of life," Peters-Ferree said.