Few people can claim to have lived in as many of Florida’s major cities as Spencer Crowley has: Jacksonville-born and Palm Beach County-raised, the land use and environmental lawyer spent much of his youth immersed in Florida’s natural splendor and consequently developed an affinity for fishing and hunting alongside Lake Okeechobee at a very young age. Crowley eventually moved further south to attend the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences before moving once more to Gainesville to earn his M.B.A and J.D. from the University of Florida.
After a stint spent working with the Hopping Green & Sams environmental law firm in Tallahassee, Crowley moved to Miami in 2002, a city where he has remained — as well as left a sizable impact — ever since.
Although Crowley has observed and absorbed more of Florida’s natural offerings than most do in a lifetime, his passion for the environment and all of the work to be done surrounding it wasn’t developed until he left the state for more tropical pastures.
“I went to the Bahamas for the first time in seventh grade with one of my buddies,” Crowley said. “I had the good fortune of being able to go over to the Bahamas every summer from the time I was in seventh grade until I was a senior in high school.”
As Crowley tells it, he would spend his whole summers “fishing, diving and really enjoying everything that the natural environment of the Bahamas could offer.”
With a crash course in natural beauty like that, it’s no wonder that the entirety of his professional career has been dedicated to reconciling the inevitable progress of man with the health and sustainability of Florida wildlife.
Prior to finding his calling in legal work, Crowley initially directed his environmentally-oriented education toward a career in the public sector. After earning his undergraduate degree in environmental science and policy at Duke University — where he spent two summers conducting research in the Florida Everglades — Crowley alternated his time as a student at UM with his master’s works as an intern for the Governor’s Commission for Sustainable South Florida, an advisory group dedicated to the restoration of the Everglades.
Subsequent to that Crowley clerked for the South Florida Water Management District, the regional flood control district, during his first summer of law school.
“Working with them was interesting because I got to see all of the different components of what they do, which is water supply, regulatory permitting for storm water systems, and different aspects of Everglades restoration that they do,” Crowley said.
For as important as he found the work, Crowley soon discovered the job wasn’t a good fit for his own personality or ambitions.
“The government work wasn’t really for me,” he said. “I just didn’t feel like there was enough of an ability to make a difference, especially as a government lawyer.”
But after spending his second law school summer working in private practice, Crowley had finally found the means by which he could best fulfill his goals.
Upon his return to Miami’s sunny shores in 2002, Crowley began working alongside former Miami Beach Mayor Neisen O. Kasdin at the Miami office of prestigious corporate law firm Gunster. Since first working together more than a decade ago, Crowley and Kasdin have stuck with one another in the ensuing 16 years.
“It’s really the two of us [who] started what is now the Akerman land use practice here in Miami,” Crowley said. He and Kasdin left Gunster in March 2007 after being recruited to come over to Akerman and have remained there ever since.
“At the time we left Gunster our group was three lawyers,” Crowley said, detailing the legal team he and Kasdin have assembled. “Now we’re up to 10 lawyers and a couple of planners. We’re focused on large scale land use and environmental permitting, mostly in the urban core.”
Crowley has spent the last decade-and-a-half immersing himself in a litany of Miami real estate and environmental projects. Somehow, he seems to have bridged the seemingly contradictory prospect of working on urban development as well as environmental conversation without compromising either the environment or his own deeply held beliefs about how to best sustain it.
One of Crowley’s first big projects with Kasdin was working on Midtown Miami in 2003.
“We’re very proud of that because it was the start of a lot of the urban renaissance that happened in downtown,” Crowley said. More recently, Crowley’s work has brought him into the commercial spheres of the Brickell City Centre as well as the Miami Design District in addition to work on a variety of marina projects.
However — whether on a volunteer basis or in his capacity as a lawyer — Crowley has never failed to make time for projects that conserve the environment that’s shaped and directed his career path. “I did some work for the Babcock Ranch, which is over in Charlotte County,” Crowley shared. He was part of the team that successfully negotiated for the conservation of 76,000 acres that are now part of the Babcock Ranch Wildlife Management Area, in turn managing to successfully balance business interests with environmental concerns.
Additionally, Crowley is a three-time gubernatorial appointee to the Florida Inland Navigation District in a volunteer capacity.
“We’re the local sponsor for the Intracoastal Waterway, so we help dredge the waterway from Miami all the way up to Jacksonville and partner with the Army Corp of Engineers on that,” Crowley explained. “In addition to that core function, we provide grants to local governments for a lot of different waterfront improvement projects. Anything from bay walks and boat ramps to piers and docks, we help to fund all those kinds of things.”
But even as he’s effecting change to the best of his ability, Crowley still has his concerns about Miami and South Florida’s future in the face of climate change.
“Over the next century and perhaps two centuries, I think there are a lot of things that this community can do — that this region can do — to make itself more resilient and not only survive, but thrive during that period,” Crowley said. “I think it can be done. But it’s going to really stress the public infrastructure; it’s going to stress the property tax rate that’s assessed on private property. That money is going to be spent in a lot of places — like coastal resilience — that other communities don’t have to worry about.”
Crowley understands that it won’t be enough to merely survive the trials waiting around the corner; the real challenge will be in ensuring a quality of life that will allow others to enjoy and appreciate the natural world just as he did.
“It’s going to be important to see how we pay for those types of improvements but also maintain the quality of life in other aspects, like schools and parks as well as infrastructure like mass transit,” Crowley said. “In the short term I think there’s a lot that can be done. Long term … it could be really tricky.”
Born: 1974, Jacksonville Spouse: Nickelle Children: Thomas, Jackson, Ella, Ava Education: University of Florida, J.D. and M.B.A., 2001; University of Miami, M.A., 1998; Duke University, A.B.,1996 Experience: Akerman, 2007-present; Florida Inland Navigation District, 2007-present; Gunster, 2002-2007; Hopping Green & Sams, 2000-2002; South Florida Water Management District Office of General Counsel, 1999; Governor’s Commission for Sustainable South Florida, 1997