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Developers, permits and regulations: Oh my!

If you are a developer in South Florida, it is possible to run afoul of regulations put in place to protect the vulnerable wetlands that make up so much of the region. As any homebuilder knows, that's a quick ticket to many legal problems that are far easier avoided in the first place.

The abundance of wetland areas can present a challenge to South Florida developers who want to always remain on the right side of the law. The permit process can be both lengthy and costly, and it is important to get it right the first time to save hassles and expense down the road.

What are the wetlands?

The term "wetlands" refers to "areas permanently inundated by water that store floodwater, provide wildlife habitat, protect vegetation growth and maintain surface water flow during dry periods."

Wetlands come under federal agencies of management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates their usage and development. Typically, the major risk is that a section of land proposed for development is located on either saltwater or freshwater wetlands. Erecting a home or subdivision on these federally protected lands is a huge no-no.

Can you build on any wetlands?

If a proposed development lies partially on any land parcel delineated as wetlands, or if a survey indicates that the proposed construction will impact over half an acre of wetlands, any development requires the issuance of a 404 individual permit.

Also, there are access routes to consider, as adjacent land to the developed property might need to be filled and elevated to run utility lines or construct access roads.

When the proposal has an impact on a half-acre or less, the construction usually gets a green light. For impacts greater than a half-acre, developers must submit a wetlands master plan for approval. These are very detailed and must include all impacts to the protected wetlands. You will also need to apply to the Corps of Engineers. They generally expect the developers to come up with plans that don't disturb these vulnerable areas. They sometimes allow limited fill for areas adjacent to the development in order to allow access.

Get it right the first time

Developers who have run into regulatory trouble in the past will be quick to advise colleagues to get their permit ducks in line before ever breaking ground. If you experience problems with permits or other regulatory difficulties, you may want to explore all your legal options.

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