Robert Angus Williams is a shareholder at Lewis, Longman & Walker, PA. In this episode of In Our Expert Opinion Real Estate Podcast, Williams joins the podcast to share his experience in working with landowners, businesses, and governments to achieve their goals within the bounds of local, state, and federal regulations, including the intricacies of general permitting issues related to wetlands. Williams also sheds light on the significance of the Florida Right to Farm Act for Florida landowners and farmers.
Below is an excerpt from the interview. Listen above for the full podcast.
Do landowners need land permits for development? Before you do almost anything with your property, you're going to need a permit from somebody. Typically, that's going to be an environmental resource permit - it’s almost guaranteed that you're going to need that permit. Even if you don't need to get some big application, there's probably a statewide permit where you just have to give notice that you've done something.
As lawyers, absolutes are really dangerous, but it's a pretty fair bet that you're gonna need an environmental resource permit. That'll either be issued by one of the water management districts across the state or in some instances it can be issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Why does the government get involved in land permits? Florida is an interesting place from the standpoint of the typography, the number of wetlands that we have, its subtropical climate, and the number of species that exist in the state. There's a lot of endangered species and there's a lot of habitat that we as a state have determined should be protected. It's all about those overarching policy decisions.
The other piece to wetlands and why the state and federal government care is that the primary source of our drinking water comes from groundwater and it comes down through the wetlands to get there. If you want water, and you want clean water, you're going to want some wetlands. That's the way science breaks it out. In overarching general terms, it’s really the public policy that's all about the water.
What does Lewis, Longman & Walker, PA do? Frequently, we represent either landowners, purchasers, developers, or counties, doing different projects that they need to do and determining how they're going to use a piece of property. On that piece of property, it’s determining whatever those physical attributes are, the number of wetlands, whether there are any listed species, and what goes on around the property.
What we do, in doing the very best that we can, is to assist the client in achieving their goals, whatever it may be. If they want to build something, we try to figure out how we get them permitted to build what they want to build. They might not always be able to build exactly how they want, but those are our goals. That's where our focus really is. We help them navigate through the myriad state and federal regulations, state and federal laws, and sometimes local regulations on how they can utilize their property the way they see fit. That's really where we come in involved. We're typically part of a team with some consultants, scientists, and those types of folks that are invaluable.
What types of issues do you work with? Flooding is a good example. There are floodplains that have been identified across the state with the 500-year Floodplain, the 100-year Floodplain, and the 25-year Floodplain. Before you can encroach into, let's say the 100-year Floodplain, you have to compensate for the encroachment and the encroachment is actually filling. If Property A and Property B are in the same 100-year Floodplain and Property A fills their property a little bit, that water is going into Property B. You have to compensate for that fill. Sometimes that can be an interesting puzzle to solve and an interesting fight to have. That's floodplain compensation.
Why is the Right to Farm Act important? It's changing all the time and the Legislature is always working on that one. The Right to Farm Act is actually located in the Criminal Code. It ensures that agriculture cannot constitute a nuisance. That's not the whole story, but that's what it really is.
The Right to Farm Act has actually developed in a number of different ways to help protect farmers doing what farmers do. One of the things that is in place now, is the Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs). The BMAPs are set up by the FDEP for different watershed basins. So if you're in a spring shed, they would draw hydrologic lines around everything that affects and goes into that spring shed that we need to protect.
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