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Seminole County officials applauding veto of land management bill

Some said SB 410 would reopen door to controversial River Cross project

When Gov. Ron DeSantis quietly vetoed Senate Bill 410 on Tuesday, a few officials in Seminole County cheered.

SB 410, sponsored by Republican Sen. Keith Perry of Gainesville, began as an attempt to restrict his home county of Alachua’s abilities to control growth into rural areas. But it got amended in the closing days of the Legislative Session to extend the effect to up to 13 counties, including charter counties such as Seminole.

From the perspective of some Seminole County Commissioners, notably Lee Constantine, the amendment meant the controversial, twice-defeated River Cross land development pushed by former Rep Chris Dorworth in eastern Seminole could find new life.

Once the bill got approved, 23-16 in the Senate and 71-43 in the House Constantine and others in Seminole and in statewide groups, including the Florida Association of Counties, lobbied hard to get DeSantis to veto it.

On Sunday Constantine published an op-ed piece in the Orlando Sentinel declaring, “This week you have a rare opportunity. With a swipe of your veto pen, you can send a resounding message of ‘not on my watch’ to those who wish to undermine our state Constitution for personal gain and save millions of taxpayer dollars. … It would open the door to special interests wanting to destroy our rural boundary.”

“I believe the Governor understood the constitutional implications and did the right and ethical thing,” Constantine said. “This is a good day, another good day, for protection of the rural boundary in Seminole County.”

Perry has insisted that the bill would not have applied to the River Cross development in Seminole, a position Constantine and other Seminole officials have challenged.

Perry was not immediately available Wednesday to comment on that.

Rep, David Smith of Winter Springs, whose district covers the River Cross area, said he believes what Perry has said is correct, and that the only way River Cross might draw new life would be from a long, convoluted, probably impossible, route. But he was nonetheless alarmed by the prospect that SB 410 could have implications affecting future growth in Seminole. Smith voted yes on the bill but had second thoughts.

There also are other issues, that drew in opposition from the Florida Association of Counties, and 1,000 Friends of Florida. Most notably, the bill appeared to infringe upon the rights of charter counties, at least those with fewer than 750,000 residents. And that, critics charged, would be unconstitutional, because neither chamber of the Florida Legislature gave the measure the mandatory two-thirds majorities.

As a result, Smith, too, joined in a campaign to get DeSantis to veto it.

Like the Governor, Perry, Constantine, and Dorworth, Smith is a Republican.

“I worked hard to have people around Central Florida call and email Governor DeSantis and ask for a veto. We got 12,000 people to help,” Smith wrote to Florida Politics.

The River Cross development has been a front-line political battle in Seminole County for more than two years and is likely to be a key issue in this year’s county elections.

The proposed would have developed 670 acres beyond the rural boundary that Seminole County voters approved as a county charter amendment 20 years ago, and develop areas that environmentalists and conservationists say need strong protection, along the Econlockhatchee River.

For more than two years, the proposal has roiled the commission, drawn packed-room opposition from residents,  support from development interests, tough talk from Dorworth, and litigation. Most recently, the commission first voted to consider, then walked away from a land swap offer to make River Cross happen. For the time being, the proposal is dead. Dorworth has vowed to not give it up, and has filed a couple of lawsuits.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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