Alachua County leaders are warily eyeing the state senate for movement on a bill they believe could limit their ability to control growth within a three-mile radius around the University of Florida.
Late Wednesday, the state's House of Representatives passed a bill that included an amendment that would make even rural-zoned land within a three-mile ring around any state university subject to being part of an urban service area.
But without a similar move by the state Senate, the bill would have no real effect.
State Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, however, has an in-the-works growth management bill that could be a vehicle for a legislator who hopes to tuck such language into it, although county officials say Perry has said he'll keep an eye out for any such attempt and will ward it off.
Perry could not be reached Thursday afternoon.
UF controls some 35,000 acres around the state, land that's owned by the state and leased to UF, according to an email from university spokeswoman Margot Winick.
UF officials haven't taken a position on the bill.
But Winick's email noted that UF's main campus and 13 satellite properties in Alachua County are covered under the school's Campus Master Plan, which calls for coordinated growth with the City of Gainesville and Alachua County.
If a Senate companion bill is somehow changed to include similar language and pushed through, Sexton said, it would significantly dent the county's ability to control its destiny.
Once you cross into the rural areas at the edges of the three-mile radius, he said, "this amendment just changes the zoning. It doesn't give counties or cities any real power to enact zoning regulations in that area. It strips away one of the fundamental rights of local governments."
According to the bill, filed by state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, state universities are constrained “by inadequate supplies of affordable residential housing and commercial facilities necessary to house and support growing populations of students and employees.”
State Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, submitted the amendments.
An Orlando Sentinel story Tuesday suggested the bill was aimed at forging an easier path for large-scale developments in Orange and Seminole counties.
A Seminole County commissioner told the Sentinel he believes a former state representative-turned-real estate investor, with plans to buy nearly 700 acres of farmland in a a "rural protection area" in Seminole, was behind the House bill's amendments.
Tuesday, the bill was changed to exempt Orange County.
Seminole would still be affected, even though residents in 2004 voted to limit development in some of its rural areas.
Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon of Florida, told the Sentinel the change would be bad for environmentally-sensitive lands.
“It’s a very devastating amendment that turns state university campuses into poison pills for the environment,” Lee said.