After he was elected, Rick Scott told a business group: “If you’ve ever wanted to step out of the private sector for a short time and offer your skills to the state of Florida, this is the time to do it.”

To that end, in a decision hailed by business leaders, Scott announced Wednesday that he had chosen St. Joe Company executive Billy Buzzett to lead the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

Buzzett, who was also an assistant general counsel under former Gov. Bob Martinez, helped craft the Scott transition team’s plans to merge the department into a new Department of Growth Leadership.

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

The statement from Scott’s team points out that Buzzert helped oversee some of St. Joe’s environmental “mitigation and conservation” programs, including the creation of the West Bay Preservation Area, part of a massive planning effort in Bay County that paved the way for new development and set aside thousands of acres for conservation.

According to Audobon of Florida:

The plan establishes a long-term blueprint for the development of all the land within the 78,000-acre area. A new airport to replace the existing Panama City-Bay County International Airport is planned for 4,000 acres. Other planned land uses include industrial, commercial and residential, with preservation being the single largest use. The setting-aside of 41,000 acres for the West Bay Preservation Area is among the most aggressive land-conservation efforts undertaken in Florida.

In addition to the sweeping Preservation Area, the sector plan is remarkable because it sets forth, many decades before build-out, how the land will be developed – or not developed. In that way, the plan ensures that compatible uses will adjoin one another, and that incompatible uses will not. The plan discourages urban sprawl by establishing a sequenced and patterned plan for development. In short, the West Bay Sector Plan is an example of the kind of planning and foresight that was lacking during much of Florida’s development, and it should be a model for future planning efforts in the state.

According to the Panama City News-Herald, St. Joe had clashed with Community Affairs over the plan.

The paper also reports that Florida Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Mark Wilson called Buzzett’s appointment “fantastic news,” while Audubon of Florida executive director Eric Draper said, “I’ve walked the woods with him. I know he has a personal feeling for the specialness of Florida’s environment.”

The pick also drew instant praise from a top lobbyist for Associated Industries of Florida, who called Buzzett a “great pick” with “the right mindset.”

Here’s the full announcement from Scott’s team:

Tallahassee, Fla. – Continuing his effort to reduce regulation and streamline permitting processes, Governor Rick Scott today named Billy Buzzett as Secretary of the Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

In an effort to create the most favorable possible climate for job creation, Scott has asked Buzzett to advise him on the best ways to better align Department of Community Affairs functions with other functions across state government.  Last month Scott’s regulatory reform transition team, of which Buzzett was a member, recommended that Department of Community Affairs be merged with other similar state functions.   In that regard, Buzzett will work closely with leaders in the development, environmental and land use arenas to identify ways to improve the regulatory climate in Florida.

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

Given his 25 years of experience as a civil engineer, land use lawyer, developer and business executive, Buzzett is well-positioned to manage the consolidation of Department of Community Affairs into other state agencies.  As vice president of strategic planning for the St. Joe Company, Buzzett helped lead the development of the new international airport in West Bay Florida, along with the largest master planned community in the United States.  During his deep involvement in St. Joe’s West Bay Sector Plan development, Buzzett assisted in implementing the strategy for mitigation and conservation program associated with the development.  The sector plan was recognized for excellence by both the Urban Land Institute and Sustainable Florida Inc, reflecting Buzzett’s ability to balance both development and community interests.  Equally important, Billy lead the creation of the West Bay Preservation Area – a 41,000 acre preserve designed to protect an entire watershed at no expense to the taxpayer.

In addition to his private sector experience, Billy also served as executive director of the 1998 Constitutional Revision Commission, an administrative law judge and as associate general counsel for Governor Bob Martinez.

“As a fifth generation Floridian, Billy has a deep appreciation for this great state, our resources, our people and the unique character of our communities.  Billy’s service at Department of Community Affairs and in my administration will reflect his desire to protect our state’s resources, while ensuring we generate new investment and regain the economic vitality necessary to create 700,000 jobs over the next seven years.

In addition to his professional accomplishments, Buzzett is author of numerous professional publications in the areas of land use and construction.  These include Sector Planning:  Is it worth it? (Florida Bar Journal 2008), and Ten Principles for Coastal Construction (Urban Land Institute, 2007).


About Billy Buzzett:

Billy is a fifth generation Floridian hailing from Apalachicola, Florida.  He has 25 years experience in engineering, law, and land development.  Graduating with a degree in civil engineering, Billy practiced for several years in New Orleans before receiving his law degree from Florida State University.   After graduating from law school, Billy worked in private practice and then worked for the Florida Legislature and as Assistant General Counsel to Governor Bob Martinez.  Billy helped create Florida’s first charter school, shaped the charter school law, and served as an administrative law judge.  Since leaving public service Billy has put his knowledge of government and law to work in the private sector.  He has developed his own land holdings, practiced land use law, and served for the past eight years as a member of the strategic planning group of the St. Joe Company – one of Florida’s largest land owners.  While at the St. Joe Company Billy led the master planning of over 100,000 acres and entitled over 30,000 residential units.  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.

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