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A bill in the Florida House could hurt efforts to challenge developers

 Urban sprawl
Urban sprawl

A bill up for a committee vote in the Florida House could hamper the ability of residents to challenge major developments.

The bill — HB 359 — would allow the winner in any challenges to a growth plan to sue for legal fees.

That would be a change from the current law, which allows the loser to be stuck with only their court costs.

That change could mean being responsible for attorney's fees of as much as $800 an hour, says Jane West of the smart-growth advocacy group 1000 Friends of Florida.

"This bill would kind of be the death knell for all citizen participation in local land use law at the local government level," West said. "That has a significant chilling effect on the ability for citizens to have a check on sprawl and irresponsible development in the state of Florida.

"When we are now experiencing an influx of 1,400 people per day into the state with really rampant growth, removing that ability for citizens to engage because it really is cost prohibitive," West said, "not so much with the prevailing party fees being sought by local government, but it's the intervening developer applicant, whose attorneys are frequently billing at exorbitant hourly rates really makes it almost impossible for your average citizen who's engaged in the public process to proceed. When they're looking at potentially paying someone else's attorneys fees to the tune of $700 or $800 an hour."

A companion bill introduced in the state Senate has not yet come up before any committees there.

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Steve Newborn