St. Joe Exec Billy Buzzett Named to Head DCA

By: David Royse News Service of Florida | Posted: January 6, 2011 3:55 AM
Billy Buzzett

Billy Buzzett

An executive at the St. Joe Co., which has led an explosion of residential and commercial development that has transformed the Florida Panhandle, was named late Wednesday to head the state agency responsible for overseeing growth.

The appointment of lawyer, developer and engineer Billy Buzzett to be secretary of the Department of Community Affairs by new Gov. Rick Scott also came with a strong signal that he may be the last to head up the agency in its current form.

Buzzett was a member of Scott’s transition team, which recommended merging the agency with others, and Scott said in a release that Buzzett’s role would be to “better align Department of Community Affairs functions with other functions across state government.”

The appointment also bolsters the pro-growth message that Scott has made his hallmark. Scott came into office promising to spur growth to create jobs. Hiring an executive of one of the state’s largest developers to head up the agency that’s mission is managing growth sent an unsubtle message that he intends for the agency to remove barriers to more development in the state.

“Billy is focused on helping me make government smaller, less intrusive and consistent with efforts to increase investments in Florida and spur job creation,” Scott said. “I am pleased that Billy has agreed to take on this critically important assignment.”

The appointment caught advocates for slower growth off guard.

“Is this serious?” asked Linda Young, who sparred with Buzzett over the new Panama City Airport, when asked to comment on his appointment. Young led a fight by environmentalists against the airport but lost to Buzzett, who helped lead the development of the new airport, which recently opened. Young said picking someone from St. Joe to manage the state’s growth amounted to a “cruel joke on Florida’s planning process.”

The previous head of DCA, Tom Pelham, was often criticized along with the agency more generally, as obstructionist by advocates for growth in the last couple of years.

Pelham responded this week before leaving office in what was a clear shot at Scott and other critics, that there is tons of development capacity already approved by his agency. Already approved planning amendments will allow for more than 1 million new housing units and nearly 3 billion square feet of commercial construction, Pelham said.

Advocates for more growth say Florida voters are on their side. They point to the refusal of voters to pass in November a proposed constitutional amendment that would have slowed growth by requiring local referenda before comprehensive planning changes.

Buzzett, who is a fifth generation Floridian with roots in the Panhandle, was known for smoothing over relations between developer St. Joe and skeptical locals, as the company – once a timber giant and the state’s largest landholder – transformed itself into a developer of its once massive forest holdings.

When St. Joe’s Arvida development arm was essentially kicked out of Franklin County, Buzzett was sent in and won the community back over, resulting in the development of new planned communities there.

Scott made no effort to conceal the fact that he wants the agency under Buzzett to approve more development, saying he was bringing him aboard “in an effort to create the most favorable possible climate for job creation.”

“While at the St. Joe Co., Billy led the master planning of over 100,000 acres and entitled over 30,000 residential units,” the release about his appointment said. “Billy understands the large-scale planning process and has shown an ability to work with local communities to develop a win-win situation for both the landowner and the community.”

Buzzett worked several years as a civil engineer in New Orleans before returning to Florida to get a law degree and practice land-use law. He also was the executive director for the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission, and an assistant general counsel to Gov. Bob Martinez.

Buzzett is also active in the charter school movement and helped create the state’s first charter school.

Also Wednesday, Scott, on his first full day in office, reappointed former Secretary of State Kurt Browning to the same role, and said former District of Columbia schools chief Michelle Rhee would continue to be an informal education adviser.

Comments (5)

Concern Citizen
8:28PM JAN 6TH 2011
Having Billy Buzzett as the new head of DCA is a plus for Florida. First order of business is to replace Charlie Guathier as director of growth management. His philisophy is more rules and the interpretation of FAC 9J-5 and FS 163 as he sees fit to impede good environmentally sound development. Under Guathier's direction the little man with limited resources has no chance to have his property classification changed by a comp plan amendment as he is hit with a shotgun blast of non-compliance issues needlessly. DCA violates their own rules and legistative intent consistently and for some reason they feel they have dictoral powers without concern for the time and resources necessary for someone to prove them wrong. The second thing that needs to happen is walking papers for Mike McDaniel & Susan Poplin as they both resent anyone challenging their decisions with a personality of a gopher turtle to boot. Billy Buzzett needs to effect change within the department now not later. Listen to the people not those who are justifing their existence as DCA employees.
Bruce Duncan
11:03AM JAN 6TH 2011
Finally someone who has experience in business has been appointed to head an agency that regulates business. No more career bureaucrats telling the business community how to run their business. Hallejuah!
9:19AM JAN 6TH 2011
Wow, Rick is batting 1.000 with choices. Florida's got so much room to grow, so the best control is the "Invisible Hand" of the free market. I think that the Scott just thumbed his nose at the environmental Nazis in charge of the growth or should I say lack thereof?

I think we'll need more roads to handle the businesses that will be coming to Florida. Ricks promise of torte reform will make Florida the medical device industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and manufacturing capital. Way to go Rick!
1:24PM JAN 6TH 2011
South of Orlando, Florida is considered to be one of the areas global which already needs more water than it has access to. Unchecked growth, without proper oversight and comprehensive planning will do nothing but pass on a poor economic situation to our future generations.
8:00AM JAN 6TH 2011
The advocates for growth who say Florida voters are on their side because Amendment 4 didn't pass are wrong. Plenty of slow responsible growth people voted no for quite a few varied reasons.

Anyway, that may be Governor Scott's Waterloo. Relying on growth to spur jobs is what got us in this mess in the first place. It's a Reagonomics scheme. It can work, but it can't work forever. We saw that clearly.

(And just what is his end game? If the 100 million in total population that's already possible under existing plans isn't enough, then what is? 200 million? How about we consolidate the rest of the United States into Florida and make it 308 million? Sigh... sarcasm off.)

Anyway, I can see it now. Tuesday, 12-15 years down the road we'll find that we must pay for the hamburger we're being served today- with a whole lot of interest. Our property taxes will rise, our energy bills will rise, and the worst will be that we won't be allowed to turn on our faucets on even numbered days, and won't be able to afford to turn them on, on odd numbered days. Not to mention all the other niceties that make for a quality of life will be gone.

One last thought. I hope Governor's Scott ethics makes sure that Mr. Buzzett doesn't personally profit from his new position either through development or through the building of the additional charter schools that's bound to be needed with more growth.

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