The Commissioner — Spring 2009

Commissioner's Voice

Going Beyond Governmental Mandates
to Do Real Planning

By Gary Sears
Vice Chair, City of Plant City, Florida, Planning Board

Plant City, Florida, incorporated in 1885, is located approximately 25 miles east of Tampa. Plant City began as an agricultural farm-to-market railroad town and over the years has grown from a rural village to a small urban city whose current population is approximately 34,000.

In 1985 Florida's growth management act required local governments to adopt comprehensive plans that met state technical requirements. Most of the comprehensive plans in Florida became technical documents with a lack of community vision; planners became "calculator" planners, instead of visionary planners, trying to defend their local plans from state accusations of over allocating land uses on their future land-use maps.

Recently Plant City has gone beyond the state-mandated planning requirements by focusing on maintaining its "hometown charm" while also preparing for future growth by the adoption of nonmandated, proactive, special-area vision plans. One of these nonmandated plans covers 20 square miles and includes areas now outside of the city's jurisdiction, but where it is expected the city will expand in the future.

This community-based, vision-driven, smart growth plan goes above and beyond the state's mandated planning requirements. Of particular note is the fact that only a portion of the 20-acre study area is currently located within the city limits, with the majority of the affected land under the jurisdiction of the board of county commissioners. This city action is an innovative, proactive step not often taken by many local governments in Florida.

Many other local government representatives participated in the planning process, including two counties, an adjacent city, the county school district, a regional planning organization, the MPO, and the Florida Department of Transportation. Since the adoption of the plan by the city commission, which included a special-district transportation impact fee to pay for road improvements, the staff of the city and the county have worked together to develop a joint planning agreement expected to be presented to the two governing bodies for their approval later this year.

In closing, it is noteworthy to recognize that planning should go beyond the technical aspects of meeting mandated planning requirements and should include developing a community vision and thinking outside of the jurisdictional box. Such planning above and beyond the minimum mandates can result in large dividends to a community's planning efforts.