Florida’s Sector Planning Process

By Jennifer B. Springfield

In 1998 due to the mounting realization that a twenty-year planning period was too short and the existing planning tools were too constraining, in a fast growing state, to adequately protect natural systems and avoid piece-meal planning, the Florida Legislature created section 163.3245, Florida Statutes (FS), which established an experimental pilot program titled Optional sector plans, that lasted for thirteen years. (fn 1 & 2) It had become evident that a more “flexible, but principled” approach to land planning was needed in order to achieve the state’s conservation goals and develop livable communities utilizing large tracts of undeveloped land predominantly still under single ownership. In 2011, after several studies appraising the results of the pilot program, the Legislature amended section 163.3245, FS, establishing sector plans as a new tool for “long-term planning for conservation, development, and agriculture on a landscape scale.” (fn 3)
In doing so, the Legislature expressed its intent that sector planning promote “Innovation,” “facilitate protection of regionally significant resources,” and be “aspirational.” (fn 4) In an article that appeared in the June 2014 Florida Bar Journal, the authors stated:
The best sector plans incorporate long-term commitments for preservation of environmental resources and agricultural lands as well as policy commitments that emphasize strong urban form to create livable communities and a balanced transportation network. In essence, sector plans provide an opportunity to plan in a manner that avoids the sprawling development patterns employed in Florida during the last fifty years. They also have an economic driver that is important to the larger community, and they are products of community-based negotiation by public and private partners in open and collaborative processes. (fn 5)

The statute establishes two separate planning phases – long-term master planning that changes the existing land use designations in the local comprehensive plan for the entire area, and subsequent detailed specific area planning for sub-areas of at least 1000 acres that provide a detailed plan of development consistent with the long-term master plan. While there are content requirements for these plans, there are no statutory criteria to guide the local government in deciding whether to approve or deny a proposed sector plan. Consistency with the existing comprehensive is not required and the applicant is “not required to demonstrate need based upon projected population growth or on any other basis.” (fn 6) The requirements for the initial long-term master planning portion are designed to provide a broad framework and general direction for the conservation, development, and agricultural activities envisioned. The items that must be generally identified in the long-tern master plan include:
• A map generally depicting the urban, agricultural, and conservation areas with densities and intensities and emphasizing sound urban form as the basis for development;
• Water supplies needed and available sources, including water resource and supply development projects and water conservation measures;
• Transportation facilities needed with an emphasis on multi-modal systems to optimize mobility;
• Regionally significant public facilities needed to support the land uses and procedures to mitigate impacts on public facilities;
• Regionally significant natural resources and procedures for their protection and conservation; and
• Procedures and policies to facilitate intergovernmental coordination to address extra-jurisdictional impacts. (fn 7)

The long-term master plan is subject to review by the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), the state land-planning agency, as to whether it complies with the statutory requirements and whether it “will adversely impact important state resources and facilities:” DEO may initiate a formal administrative hearing process regarding these issues, as well as can a third party.
The statute also attempts to link land, water and transportation planning, which was missing in the past and created many difficult development issues amongst the state, regional and local governments. For instance, the water needs, sources and water resource and supply development projects identified in the long-term master plan must be incorporated into the applicable water management district’s water supply plans, and any MPO long-range transportation plan must be consistent with the long-term master plan to the maximum extent feasible.
Once a long-term master plan is approved and in place, local government approval of two or more detailed specific area plans (DSAP) may be sought as local development orders, which are not subject to state review, but must be consistent with the long-term master plan. At this stage, the statute requires detailed and specific identification and analysis of the following items within the specific area plan boundaries:
• Maximum and minimum densities and intensities of use and distribution, extent and location of future land uses emphasizing compact urban development;
• Water resource development and water supply development projects and related infrastructure and water conservation measures to address water needs;
• Transportation facilities to serve future land uses promoting multiple modes of transportation;
• Other regionally significant public facilities, including those outside the host government, and impacts of future land uses and required improvements;
• Major public facilities needed to serve development, including developer contributions, in the local government’s five-year capital improvements schedule;
• Measures to ensure the protection and restoration and management of lands identified for permanent preservation through recording conservation easements, to ensure that off-site environmental impacts are avoided or minimized and mitigated; and
• Procedures to facilitate intergovernmental coordination to address extra-jurisdictional impacts. (fn 8)

DEO may appeal a local government’s approval of a DSAP to the Land and Water Adjudicatory Commission on the grounds that it is not consistent with the comprehensive plan or the long-term master plan. An aggrieved or adversely affected party may also challenge the development order in court pursuant to § 163.3215, FS.
Local governments are primarily responsible for enforcing DSAP’s, but the DEO may initiate administrative or judicial action pursuant to §380.11, FS, if it believes that a violation has occurred or is about to occur. (fn 9)

1. An application for approval of the long-term master plan for Plum Creek’s Envision Alachua Sector Plan is currently being considered by Alachua County.
2. Ch. 98-176, § 15 at 20, Laws of Florida.
3. § 163.3245(1), Fla. Stat. (2015)
4. § 163.3245(1), Fla. Stat. (2015)
5. Sector Plans, Powell, David L., Gary K. Hunter, Jr. and Robert M. Rhodes, The Florida Bar 2014
6. § 163.3245(3)(a) and (b), Fla. Stat. (2015)
7. § 163.3245(3)(a), Fla. Stat. (2015)
8. § 163.3245(3)(b), Fla. Stat. (2015)
9. § 163.3245(5), Fla. Stat. (2015)