Charlotte Sun-Herald Saturday October 25, 2014
Charlotte’s comp plan changes challenged
  MURDOCK - Local environmental groups are taking legal action to block proposed changes to Charlotte County’s 2050 comprehensive plan.
  Charlotte County commissioners voted unanimously last month to follow county staff recommendations regarding the streamlining of the comp plan, but now Charlotte Harbor Sierra Club members and the Friends of Cape Haze have filed challenges to the revamp with the state Division of Administrative Hearings.
  “This is a very big deal,” said Debra Highsmith, environmental committee chairwoman for the Sierra Club chapter. She filed the challenge for the club with the state.
  “The proposed changes eviscerate protections for neighborhoods, wildlife and habitats,” Highsmith said.
  “It’s not anything we didn’t expect, and we are still reviewing the documents,” County Attorney Janette Knowlton said Friday. “Beyond that, I have no comment.”
  However, at a commission public hearing Sept. 23, Community Development Director Ty Harris, who has also served as an assistant county attorney, described the changes to the comp plan as necessary due to recent changes in state law.
  According to Harris at the hearing, the goal of the revisions was to delete from the comp plan specific regulatory language that is or should be addressed in land use regulations.
  “None of this stuff we are doing takes away what’s currently in the land development regulations and is enforceable,” Harris told commissioners. “We are removing regulatory language from your planning document.”
  But to the Sierra Club, Highsmith said, what’s gutted from the plan are:
  Protections for wetlands, buffers, wildlife corridors, floodplains, ground water and surface water;
  Protections that will direct development away from sensitive lands toward more appropriate areas;
  Limitations of public access to public water bodies by allowing the vacations of streets and other rights of way.
  The Friends of Cape Haze - a grassroots nonprofit group of residents and homeowner associations - also filed its own objections with the state. Prior to the public hearing, the group objected to changes it viewed as stripping away wetlands other wildlife protections, and weakening the transfer of development units (TDUs) from high hazard and coastal zones.
  The Friends of Cape Haze had won a court settlement four years ago against the county over coastal development densities and the TDUs. What resulted from that settlement, Harris said at the hearing, remained in place.
  But that’s not how Friends of Cape Haze views the changes.
  Like the Sierra Club, the Friends group views the comp plan changes as diminishing protections to natural resources but also allowing potentially more development in coastal areas.
  As far as land use regulations sufficing for what was removed from the comp plan, Percy Angleo, a Friends board member, said land use regulations can be changed easily, whenever commissioners want and much easier than implementing comp plans changes. Also, Angleo said comp plans should identify where development should and should not occur.
  No administrative hearing dates have been set for either challenge.
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