Finding realistic and equitable legal solutions to a wide range of important growth management issues — especially those that affect agriculture, green space, water resources and energy — is easier thanks to a new partnership between the University of Florida’s Extension Service and UF’s Levin College of Law.
The Extension Service is now working closely with the Conservation Clinic, housed in the law college’s Center for Governmental Responsibility, to promote smart growth and sustainability solutions throughout the state.
“With Florida’s population expected to double in 50 years, growth management will continue to be one of the most urgent, difficult and potentially contentious issues facing the state,” said Larry Arrington, dean for Extension.
“The statewide Extension Service, which is part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, has faced increased pressure to play a greater role in Florida environmental and land use issues, and our new partnership with the Levin College of Law allows us to better respond to these needs,” Arrington said. “Agricultural producers in the state have emphasized the need for science-based solutions to issues surrounding growth, and county government officials are also requesting more support on growth issues.”
The Conservation Clinic provides environmental and land use law services to Florida communities and non-government organizations and university programs such as the Extension Service and Florida Sea Grant College Program, said Tom Ankersen, director of the clinic. Among other projects, the clinic has consulted with local government on ordinances and comprehensive plan policies, state statutes and conservation easements.
“Demand for clinic legal services has been growing, and much of this has come through requests generated by our expanding relationship with UF’s Extension Service, which has offices in every county,” Ankersen said. “The Conservation Clinic already has an ongoing relationship with the Florida Sea Grant program to support its coastal and marine education programs.”
In the next 50 years, more than 11 million new homes — along with millions of square feet of commercial space and thousands of miles of new roadways — will be needed to accommodate the influx of residents, according to Pierce Jones, director of the Extension Service’s Program for Resource Efficient Communities.
“In order to achieve the kind of resource-efficient growth we need, our community planning efforts require cross disciplinary collaboration with building professionals, local governments, water management districts and other agencies,” Jones said. The Program for Resource Efficient Communities works with these and other collaborators to promote the adoption of best design, construction and management practices in new residential community developments that measurably reduce energy and water consumption and environmental degradation, he said.
The Conservation Clinic recently helped draft the language for Gainesville’s Green Building Program, which is being used as a model by Sarasota and other Florida communities. The incentive-based program incorporates a variety of energy efficient construction and landscape criteria that builders must follow in order to build homes that are certified by the Florida Green Building Coalition.
Another Extension educational effort benefiting from the clinic’s legal services is the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program, which encourages builders and developers to protect natural resources by incorporating environmentally friendly landscaping into their new construction.
Jones said the Conservation Clinic provided model language for various covenants, conditions and restrictions to help homeowner’s associations do their part to protect and conserve Florida’s water resources using science based information generated by UF.
Jim Cato, senior associate dean and director of UF’s School of Natural Resources and Environment and director of the Florida Sea Grant College Program, said the Conservation Clinic is a critical partner in both programs. “The clinic has been working with Sea Grant’s boating and waterways management program for a number of years, and recently began assisting the Program for Resource Efficient Communities, which is also affiliated with the UF school,” he said.
Robert Jerry, dean of the Levin College of Law, said smart growth and sustainability are key issues in Florida, and have long been a focus of the college’s environmental and land use law program as well as a number of units in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“An interdisciplinary approach is vital to successfully managing these areas, and this partnership with the Extension Service will greatly amplify available intellectual and physical resources,” Jerry said. “Conservation Clinic projects also leverage taxpayer dollars by utilizing the time and talents of law students under faculty guidance. The students benefit, too, by gaining hands-on, real world experience.”