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Vol. 2 | No. 2 | June 2009   

 

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2009 Florida Legislative session recap

Tall Timbers planning staff was actively involved in monitoring and lobbying several bills of importance to Red Hills’ landowners and Tall Timbers.  These bills include:

House Bill 7157 – Real property used for conservation purposes
House Bill 7157 was the enabling legislation for Florida Constitutional Amendment 4, which provides ad valorem tax relief for land permanently protected by conservation easement. The Legislature passed this bill.  According to HB 7157, to receive a 100 percent exemption from ad valorem taxation, the following criteria must apply: 

  • The conservation easement binding the real property must either be recognized as sufficient under federal income tax guidelines (26 US Code Section 170(h)(A) (i)-(iii)) or must protect the natural conservation values of the land for water enhancement, water recharge, woodlands, wetlands, waterways, or natural open spaces, or provide habitat for fish, plants or wildlife;
  • The easement must be irrevocable and perpetual and the protected property must be over 40 contiguous acres in size;
  • The property must be dedicated for conservation and used exclusively for conservation purposes.  Such use does not preclude receiving income from activities consistent with a land management plan when the income is used to implement the management plan;
  • Baseline documentation must be developed describing the natural resources to be protected on the property and a management plan may be produced;
  • All buildings and improvements and the area immediately surrounding buildings and improvements, if within a conservation easement property, shall be subject to taxation.  However, structures and improvements that are “auxiliary to the use of the land for conservation purposes, shall be exempt to the same extent as to the underlying land.”
  • If agriculture and silviculture are allowed under the conservation easement, then Best Management Practices (BMPs) promulgated by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall be followed;
  • The applicable Water Management District shall have a third-party right of enforcement of the conservation easement provisions if the holder of the easement is “unwilling or unable” to enforce the terms of the easement; and
  • The Florida Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) shall maintain a list of all nonprofit entities that are qualified to hold easements under this law.

In order to receive a 50% exemption from ad valorem taxation, all of the above requirements are applicable, but a landowner can use income earned pursuant to the “allowed commercial uses” under the conservation easement and apply that income in a way that is not related to implementation of the management plan. 

For lands that are less than 40 contiguous acres, the Florida ARC will decide if the land in question fulfills a clearly identified state conservation policy and yields a significant public benefit. If both criteria are fulfilled, the land may gain a 100% or 50% ad valorem tax exemption, depending upon the use of income, if any, from the “allowed commercial uses.” These lands must have a management plan and a designated manager. 

There are notification and filing requirements to gain the ad valorem tax exemptions and the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) has been tasked with adopting emergency rules to implement this new law. As might be expected, the devil will be in the details of the rules developed and implemented by the DOR. 

Senate Bill 2002/House Bill 1249 - Commercial dog breeding
SB 2002 was championed by the Human Society of the United States and is similar to bills that organization floated in a number of states in the last year. SB 2002 was targeted at regulating commercial dog breeding facilities (puppy mills), but would have significantly affected hunting interests throughout Florida as a result of strict new regulations on persons owning 10 or more dogs. SB 2002 passed through the Community Affairs Committee 7-3 and was headed to the Agriculture Committee. Surprising many observers, it was then amended onto the Pet Lemon Law Bill (SB 288) in the Judiciary Committee. Before hearing SB 288 though, the Judiciary Committee temporarily postponed discussion of the bill, time ran out in the session, and the amended version of SB 288 with the added commercial dog breeding language
did not pass. 

This is a bill that Red Hills’ land owners and Tall Timbers planning staff will have to watch out for in the 2010 Legislative Session as it could likely return. 

Senate Bill 360 - Growth management reform
SB 360 was one of the primary growth management bills this session.  SB 360 was initially supported by the Florida Department of Community Affairs and its Secretary, Tom Pelham, as well as 1000 Friends of Florida, one of the state’s leading growth management advocacy organizations.  However, a series of amendments added in the last days of the session resulted in both organizations ultimately opposing SB 360. Many conservation organizations also opposed this proposal. Nevertheless, SB 360 passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by Governor Crist.     

There are several provisions in Senate Bill 360 that could adversely affect rural areas, particularly provisions that reduce state oversight of development and transportation projects in areas that are described as “dense urban areas.” In theory this is a good idea.  In reality, the adopted definition of “dense urban area” is less than one house per acre, meaning this amendment could apply in areas that are actually somewhat rural in nature and not appropriate for more intense (and costly to serve residential development). Planning staff will closely follow the development of rules to implement this bill to determine if Red Hills landowners’ conservation interests could be affected. 
The mission of Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy is to foster exemplary land stewardship through research, conservation and education.