a fake house and calculator


I admit it. I’ve never seen that word. But the word from which it is taken describes perfectly that the land planning subject of this article is not easy to see. I’ll tell you how in a minute. But first, a tip of the hat, I think, to the Florida Legislature for getting something mostly right.

For months we in real estate have realized that the insurance industry is either warping itself, or being warped, into a dither that has the potential to bring real estate sales to a halt. My friend Michael Ward called three months ago to tell me that he had several years ago installed an expensive new, metal roof on a house in Walton County. Now he has chosen to sell the house and the insurance company refuses to insure the new purchaser because the roof is ten years old. Mike’s response was that he had paid more, and a whole bunch more, for a metal roof purely because the roof is warrantied for 50 years, and to be told now that the house can’t be insured and therefore can’t be sold until he has replaced a very good roof, is both dumb and unfair.

Mike was right, of course. And his call was just the first of many over the last 90 days. But that’s where the insurance industry has gone.

The search for reasons led me to the working conclusion that the legal profession, mostly in south Florida, is partly at fault for jumping on a law that paid legal fees for mostly unwarranted claims. But I’m frankly not sure that’s all that’s going on. We lawyers get the first round of derision when something like this happens, and opportunists do play a role. But the roofing industry, the Insurance machine, and private homeowner greed all play together to create a self-feeding smorgasbord that results in overpriced homeowner insurance or no insurance at all.

In the meantime, Patt Maney and his staff have helped me understand the issues better, and I see that the legislature has responded with a wide-ranging effort, already signed into law, to address the problem. Unfortunately, every law has a potential to create its own excesses. The self- interested abuses in south Florida have created a very complex law that may be overkill, but it is certainly an effort to address the problem. Thank you, Patt, for being a part of that, and for sharing. I know we all hope the law creates a better system.

Now to diaphony. A mostly invisible struggle between cities and counties that is costing us all.

Both cities and counties across Florida want to attract growth, and they want builders and developers to see the benefit of location inside their jurisdiction. Development brings people, tax opportunities and accolades for being the center of commercial and residential action. Local governments can attract growth by making it easier to open new projects without the developer being required to provide adequate parking or roads. Then those whose job it is to champion the city, show to builders how much easier, quicker and cheaper they can build in their jurisdiction.

We have proven for too many years that the solution is either impossible once uncontrolled development has already happened, or is so expensive we have to appeal to outside funding to do the things we did not have the courage to do when we should have. Some cities relax their standards, or simply look the other way, to prove to the development world how easy building in that city really is.

(Incidentally, one of the reasons Walton County appears, and may actually be, more proactive than Okaloosa in guarding its development standards is that Walton does not have cities located south of the Bay that insist on competing with the county by showing developers that they are more developer friendly than the county.)

Okaloosa County’s staff is about to propose new, more stringent, parking requirements in its development ordinances. In addition, at least two members of the Zoning Advisory Board have proposed an ordinance amendment that will require tighter county control over the splitting of lots within already platted subdivisions. Whether politics will allow these changes remains to be seen.

Political pressures make change difficult. We’ll have to see whether Okaloosa can hold the line on amendments that ought to be made. But it would be unfortunate if the cities use the fact that the county might take the lead to ignore their own standards, particularly if they do that because they know they can attract development by willfully closing their eyes to parking, roads and other minimum standards. They are putting off to another day problems that should never have existed.

These gauzy goings on are not hard to see if you’re looking.