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Battles Over Land Use Coming To North Florida, UF Researchers Say

Chris Eversole

David Denslow (352) 392-0171 ext. 340
David Mulkey (352) 352-1845 ext. 406
Burl Long (352) 392-1826 ext. 207

GAINESVILLE — Florida’s urban mass could grow by almost half in the next 15 years, bringing gridlock and fights over water, taxes and land use to North Florida, according to new projections by University of Florida economists.Retiring baby boomers will fuel population growth, said UF economist David Denslow. “The first surge of boomers will retire in 2006. We need to be thinking about how we will handle their impact because it’s not that long before they arrive,” he said.

Denslow is scheduled to present the new projections at an April 20-22 land-use conference in Tampa, sponsored by UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Although population is expected to grow an estimated 30 percent — an increase to 18.5 million from today’s 14 million — land use will grow 40 percent in the next decade and a half, he said. The projection challenges earlier thinking that urban development would consume less land because builders would fill in undeveloped portions of Florida’s cities and suburbs.

“Land use will outstrip population growth because Floridians are becoming wealthier and buying homes on larger lots,” Denslow said. “The average Floridian will have a 16 percent higher income — going to $29,000 from $25,000 in today’s dollars — in the year 2013.”

Some Floridians will turn to North Florida, where their extra money can buy large lots at affordable prices, said UF agricultural economist David Mulkey. “Much of South Florida’s urban area is along the coast,” he said. “As population increase in the coastal areas, land will become more expensive, and more people with move north of Interstate 4.”

Mulkey said the growth projections should force state and local governments to seek more effective ways of managing growth.

“Some of the new development is taking place in unincorporated areas. County governments may not be ready to handle their responsibility for providing roads, sewers, water service and other infrastructure,” he said.

In addition, urban growth will detract from the rural lifestyle in parts of North Florida that haven’t faced growth pressures before, Mulkey said.

Growth will continue to present challenges in South Florida as well, Mulkey added. For example, some of South Florida’s fastest growing counties are also prime areas for farming fruits and vegetables.

“Growth in Dade, Palm Beach, Orange, Polk and Hillsborough counties is reducing the state’s agricultural production,” he said. “That reduction can affect the availability of food at affordable prices.”

Burl Long, another UF agricultural economist, will attend the conference to discuss government tax policies intended to slow growth. One policy he will talk about bases property tax assessments for farm and ranch land on its agricultural use, which usually makes assessments much lower than if the land were developed.

The policy affects 227,000 pieces of property and reduces the assessed value of that property by about $600 million, Long said. “That’s a large sum, and it provides considerable tax relief to farmers and ranchers.

“Since this policy places a greater tax burden on other taxpayers, the public will want to know if it is helping slow rapid urban growth,” Long said. “The answer is that the policy is not terribly effective in slowing growth because the tax benefit is not enough to hold off growth indefinitely. However, it is achieving its other objectives — helping farm businesses stay afloat and keeping them in agriculture in the short run.”

Government should not abandon agricultural land tax assessments but instead should supplement them with new policies that will help contain growth, Long said. “We all have a stake in maintaining the state’s rural charm, and we need to begin now to find ways to do it,” he said.

The conference, to be held at Tampa’s Sheraton Grand Hotel, is co-sponsored by the Florida Farm Bureau, the Natural resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Farm Foundation.

Registration information may be obtained from the UF/IFAS Office of Conferences and Institutes at (352) 392-5930.