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In the field of urban and regional planning, the passing of legislative bills can significantly influence how local governments shape the future development of their communities. A recent example is CS/CS/SB 540, signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis and effective July 1, 2023. This bill introduces several substantial changes to the existing regulatory framework for land development and comprehensive plans in Florida.


CS/CS/SB 540 contains several notable changes that have the potential to reshape the dynamics of comprehensive plans, development orders, and land development regulations. Below is a breakdown of the significant aspects of the bill:

  1. Attorney Fees and Costs in Comprehensive Plan Challenges. One of the most important changes in the bill is the provision that allows the prevailing party in “administrative challenges” to adopt comprehensive plans and plan amendments, including small-scale amendments, to recover attorney fees and costs. Although the legislature in 2019 added a similar prevailing party provision for consistency challenges involving development orders, this provision introduces a significant shift in the incentives and strategies of parties involved in plan adoption challenges.
  2. Exemption of Land Development Regulations for Florida College System Institutions. SB 540 revises Section 163.3202, Fla. Stat., concerning land development regulations, to specify that regulations related to development characteristics other than use, intensity, or density of use do not apply to institutions within the Florida College System. This provision recognizes the unique role and needs of these institutions within the broader context of land development.
  3. Clarification of Scope in Development Order Challenges. Addressing an ongoing split among Florida district courts of appeal, the bill amends Section 163.3215, Fla. Stat. to clarify the scope of consistency challenges to local government decisions regarding development orders. It establishes that a development order can only be challenged if it materially alters the property’s use, density, or intensity in a manner inconsistent with the comprehensive plan. This clarification seeks to standardize the interpretation of development order challenges across different jurisdictions, hopefully leading  to more predictable outcomes in consistency challenges.

Current Landscape: Comprehensive Plans and Development Orders

Comprehensive plans serve as essential roadmaps that guide the future development of counties and municipalities throughout Florida, ensuring orderly growth while addressing various aspects of development. For any development or development order to be approved by a local government, it must align with the local comprehensive plan.

The Ripple Effect

With SB 540 now signed into law, its impact is likely to reverberate across various stakeholders involved in land development and comprehensive planning. Below is a closer look at how these changes might influence different parties.

Fiscal and Practical Considerations

For private parties, the prevailing party provisions discussed above could influence decisions on whether to challenge comprehensive plans or plan amendments. However, they should also be prepared for the financial responsibilities if they do not prevail.

Local governments could experience varying fiscal impacts as they engage in litigation surrounding their comprehensive plans. The extent of this impact will depend on the outcomes of legal challenges and whether local governments are determined to be the prevailing parties.

As local governments, developers, citizens, and legal practitioners adapt to the new framework, the impact of the bill will become more apparent over time.

Bottom Line

SB 540 marks a significant milestone in the evolution of Florida’s land development and comprehensive planning regulations. By introducing changes to attorney fees, land development regulations, and the scope of development order challenges, the bill has set the stage for a new era of development practices. If you need further guidance on this topic, please feel free to contact me at