Saturday, April 20, 2019

Public Input on uses for public lands - workshop set for May 14

The planning workshop that seeks public input on rezoning the public lands at the Celery Fields will be held on May 14 at the Church of Hope, at 6 pm. 

Photo courtesy of Chuck Behrmann
That's the same hall where Mr. Gabbert presented his proposed waste processing facility in Jan. 2017. It is located at 1560 Wendell Kent Road Sarasota, Florida, 34240.

Fresh Start's proposals for the Quads -- public lands at Apex and Palmer -- will be among those presented at the workshop. To make sure all the essential materials, reports and proposals are open for consideration, we're sending the following documents to the Planning Dept.:

We'd welcome co-signers from the communities that care about this issue on the email that will accompany these documents. Please let us know quite soon if you'd like it to include your name.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Many Proposals, One Proposition

To all who care about our public lands and Celery Fields:

Recently people from the community met with the lead planner for the Quad Parcel study now being conducted by the County. This "Critical Area Plan" will open the area to new possibilities. Below are two ways you can influence the outcome.

1. Proposals -- Many who were involved with Fresh Start either developed proposals or grew attached to one or more of those that were presented to the Board. As you know, the Board chose not to direct staff to work on any of our ideas.

What's next? The planning department is now conducting its study of the area. It will look at land uses, at the roads, and at surrounding areas. It will speak with "stakeholders," including the public - that workshop is being planned for mid-May, but the exact date is not yet set.

The results of Planning's research will be presented to the Board a few months from now - possibly in August or September - and at that time, the Board might direct staff to prepare a rezoning of one or more of the Quad parcels.

It would be great if the Board directs staff to prepare a land use rezoning that would allow one or more of the great ideas the community has birthed - and more ideas are on the way. Some truly remarkable and imaginative new proposals are in the works which you'll be hearing more about soon.

Bear in mind, Fresh Start was a limited Board/community process that is no longer active. People like you who remain committed to a bright future for the Celery Fields area must now remember that the Board can do one of three things with the Planning Dept.'s study:

It can direct staff to
a. rezone for compatible uses beneficial to the community.
b. rezone for industrial, commercial or other uses preparatory to a sale to a private developer.
c. do nothing at all (unlikely after this staff initiative).
How can we influence the decision makers to go with A rather than B or C? This is where #2 comes in:

2. Community Proposition: Residents and folks with businesses near the Quad parcels have begun working on a "Community Proposition" for the Quads. The basic idea is, prefer public uses to private development. Encourage beneficial community uses within an enabling positive framework. Note that this initiative doesn't propose specific uses for the parcels. Rather it's about preferring public A to private B - and is offering a way to benefit the entire area.

More about the Community Proposition soon. Meanwhile, if you have a proposal for one or more of the quad parcels, this is the time to send it to lead planner Steve Kirk at

Mr. Kirk has indicated that part of the May workshop will involve the planning department's review of proposals that have been submitted up to that time. NOTE: this is likely to include only the 4 final proposals submitted by Fresh Start. If you developed an idea that was not one of the final 4 and still like it, please share it with Mr. Kirk.

All the information we've gathered about the proposals, the workshop, and the critical area plan process are now at this link.

Quads Workshop Info so far

When the date of the workshop is announced, it will be added, and we'll let you know.

Thank you for caring about our public spaces.

Tom Matrullo
Glenna Blomquist

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Quads Workshop Info so far

Last fall, the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners directed Planning to undertake a new Critical Area Plan study of our public lands at the Celery Fields known as the "Quad Parcels," or just "Quads." 
Critical Area Plan Scope 

On Jan. 29, the Planning Dept. issued a memorandum outlining the Scope of Work for this study. That memo is here.

Lead County Planner Steve Kirk has been helpful in answering our questions about the process. The County is looking at a date in mid-May for the workshop, probably to be held in the evening. The date and venue have not yet been finalized. 

Note: Mr. Kirk says staff will review and discuss proposals submitted by the Fresh Start Initiative. We are aware that some new proposals are being developed within our communities. Anyone who has a new proposal is invited to submit it to Mr. Kirk at any time -- his contact information is at the end of this post.

Below are the responses to our queries thus far:

The public workshop will be an informal event and staff will be flexible in how it concludes. Timing speakers would be unnecessary, however, domination of discussions will be discouraged. 
Any input regarding CAP should be directed  to me at my address, phone number or email address below. The intent  of the workshop is to present to the public all the information the staff has at the time, and then hear ideas and feedback from those in attendance. The staff presentation will include any ideas related to the CAP or the County properties previously provided by the public, including those previously put forth by Fresh Start.  We will also include anything else we receive  prior to the workshop.  It will be made clear in our presentation that we will continue to take public input, and will welcome conversations on the CAP issues after the workshop, and until the CAP study is completed. 
The staff is beginning the study and preparing for the public workshop. 
We will record audio of the workshop.   
The work of the study will continue after the public workshop and should be completed within the 9 month period.  
As stated in the scope of work, once completed, a presentation and discussion of the study will be scheduled with the County Commission. What happens after completion of the study is at the discretion of the Commission and I would not speculate on what action they may take. However, should the Commission direct staff to amend the Critical Area Plan or rezone any of the County owned properties, the public hearing processes as required and outlined in the UDC and CAP regulations will be followed. The County owned “Quads” parcels are all zoned Open Use Rural (OUR), and industrial uses are not permitted. The establishment of an industrial use  would require a change of zoning to a district permitting such use. 
If the Board directs staff to rezone any of the parcels, staff would prepare and process a rezone application as required by the UDC including all necessary documentation. The preparation and processing of such an application, including public hearings, would likely take a minimum of 6 months. The CAP study authorized by the Board, on which we are now working, is not an application to amend the CAP or rezone any property.  It is intended to provide the Board with information to inform decisions in the area of the CAP. Notice of the public workshop will be posed on the Planning and Development Services Calendar on-line at calendar will link to documents related to the workshop. I cannot at this point tell you exactly when this will be posted, but approximately 2 weeks before the workshop.

Steve Kirk, AICP, ASLA 
Planner III 
Sarasota County Planning Services 
1660 Ringling Blvd, Sarasota, FL 34236 
Office: 941-861-5202 
 Lo Res 2Color RGB No Signature.jpg 

Monday, March 25, 2019

An update on County actions on the Quad Parcels

The County has initiated a process. Its aim is to decide what to do about four parcels of public land at Apex Rd. and Palmer Blvd. which the County acquired in 1997, commonly called the Quads.

Two parcels (#1 and #2) have lain vacant for 22 years. Parcel #3 has had a temporary fire station, but will soon have a permanent one. Parcel #4 has a retention pond.

The Planning Department's process, called a Critical Area Plan, is intended to take a new look at these parcels in the context of surrounding lands, assets and uses. Part of the decision about how these parcels are rezoned will depend on which surroundings are considered most relevant.

The immediate surroundings include:

Quads and partial surrounding context
  • The Celery Fields
  • Small office and warehouse facilities north and south of the Quads
  • Thousands of new homes and apartments built on East Palmer Blvd., on Debrecen, on Lorraine (formerly Iona), on Cattlemen Rd., and more -- all since the Quads were acquired.
  • Tatum Ridge elementary school.
  • The commercial area just west of I-75 that includes Detwilers, JRs Packinghouse Cafe, and many more businesses.
  • The Fruitville Initiative - now underway at Coburn and Fruitville, which will eventually contain more than 1,000 new residences.
  • Ackerman Park

In mid-May (date not yet set), the Planning Department will hold one public meeting to hear input from our communities. The Board got an earful on Aug. 23, 2017, when more than 300 people attended an all-day hearing on a proposal from waste developer James  Gabbert, who wanted to buy parcel #2 and build a 16-acre, open air waste processing facility. The proposal eventually was voted down 3-2, with Commissioners Maio and Moran voting for Gabbert's waste facility.

These are public lands, but the Board, especially Commissioners Maio and Moran, have indicated preference for selling these 30+ acres to private developers. Industrial developers such as Robert Waechter and James Gabbert have long supported the political careers of Maio and Moran. Waechter owns several dilapidated warehouses just south of parcel #2 and has been strongly in favor of putting more industry on the Quads.

Here an update on the May meeting from the lead planner for the county's Critical Area Plan process, Steve Kirk:
The public workshop will be an informal event and staff will be flexible in how it concludes.  Timing speakers would be unnecessary, however, domination of discussions will be discouraged.  Any input regarding CAP should be directed  to me at my address, phone number or email address below. 
The intent  of the workshop is to present to the public all the information the staff has at the time, and then hear ideas and feedback from those in attendance.  The staff presentation will include any ideas related to the CAP or the County properties previously provided by the public, including those previously put forth by Fresh Start.* We will also include anything else we receive  prior to the workshop.  It will be made clear in our presentation that we will continue to take public input, and will welcome conversations on the CAP issues after the workshop, and until the CAP study is completed. 
Let me know if you have questions. 
Planner III
Sarasota County Planning Services
1660 Ringling Blvd, Sarasota, FL 34236
Office: 941-861-5202
Steve Kirk, AICP, ASLA

*Editor's note: Fresh Start was a community-based initiative to propose uses for the Quad parcels that were alternatives to industry. The community provided many ideas which were vetted then voted on by community representatives. Four "finalist" ideas were presented which included a public open space and buffer for the Celery Fields birding area; an ecolodge and restaurant; an athletic complex, and an area of shops and affordable housing. The Board chose to pursue none of these ideas, or to respond to the community's vision. Instead, it paid $29,000 to a Miami consultant, Lambert Advisory, which advised industrial use on parcel #3, leading to this new Critical Area Plan.

When the date / time of the public meeting is set, we'll let you know.

Celery Fields looking west

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

SNN looks at impact of Gabbert Waste Transfer Facility on Celery Fields

Letter from Fresh Start protesting industrialization near the Celery Fields.

ALSO: Get Notified of Public Meeting:

In mid-May, the County will hold a public meeting to address a "critical area plan" that could end by rezoning the Quads - our public lands - for sale. If you wish to be put on a notification list for this meeting (it appears to be the only one the County plans to hold), please write to Mary Beth Humphreys of the planning dept. - just ask to be put on the notification list for the May Critical Area Plan meeting for the Quad parcels at the Celery Fields.

Ms. Humphreys can be reached here:

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Statement to the Board regarding Quads Critical Area Plan

This statement on reopening the Critical Area Plan (CAP) of the public lands near the Celery fields was presented in Open to the Public and via email on Jan. 29, 2019. It is necessary to remind our elected officials that this is public land because they make decisions like this. 

To:      The Board of Sarasota County Commissioners
From:  Tom Matrullo
RE:     Critical Area Plan for the Quad Parcels/Celery Fields Area


As you know, the Quad parcels have galvanized public attention here for the past two years.

The excellent planning memorandum on the CAP clearly indicates that this process holds promise for a new vision of these public lands and the Celery Fields area. Mr. Osterhoudt and Mr. Kirk state:
An analysis of the general conditions should be performed for the entire CAP area.
Further, they describe possible uses for these public parcels, including #6:
Park, recreation indoor/outdoor, civic/cultural
The Memo promises to examine mobility, buffering, landscaping, aesthetics, architectural design, and connection with the Celery Fields, as well as to identify incompatible uses. All this is music to the ears of the communities of the Fresh Start Initiative.

We fully agree that all citizens of Sarasota County are equal stakeholders, as the memo states:
… ensure public input from interested individuals and organizations, property owners and occupants within the CAP area, as well as users of the Celery Fields facilities.
As fiduciary stewards of our public lands, your Scope of Work needs to be open, transparent, and inclusive. We recommend that you incorporate three clarifying elements in this process:
  1. Make unambiguously clear that no preference or deference will be given to any particular group who might provide input to the amendment process. The phrase “stakeholders and the general public” be amended to clarify that all citizens are equal stakeholders
  2. The Board might legitimately seek input from specific subgroups of “stakeholders,” so long as the openness of this process is honored. Make sure every meeting is advertised and open to all
  3. The process might find compelling reason to amend the boundaries of the CAP. Your Scope of Work should allow flexibility of boundaries for such contingency. 
Finally, make the most of this opportunity to meet pressing community needs -- affordable workforce housing, athletic facilities, civic spaces for thousands of future residents. The Celery Fields is an exceptional eco-tourist destination in need of parking and supplementary facilities. 

This process can address all these considerations.

Commissioners, the people of Sarasota want this to succeed. At the end of the day, if done right, our community will have a new vision of the area -- one that respects these important assets, protects them for future synergies, and connects them with crucial community benefits.

Thank you.

Tom Matrullo

Public "Quad" parcels

Quad parcels and Celery Fields

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Update: Quad Parcels, Gabbert, Audubon Workshop

With the new year, there are two updates about the Quad Parcels near the Celery Fields, and news of  a coming workshop.

1. On Tuesday the Board will discuss reopening the Critical Area Plan for the Quad parcels. These four parcels are Public Lands. It's the next to last item on the day's long agenda.

This entire process is about public lands, and requires that the public be recognized as stakeholders on a par with all other interested parties. Please advise your neighbors. The staff notes for Tuesday's discussion are here.

Quad Parcels are Public Lands

Critical Area Planning can be useful when an area in transition needs to be rezoned, and its surroundings have changed. The idea is to look at what could be the best uses for the Quad parcels given the current context. How that context is defined will be key. It could include Celery Fields, the Fruitville Initiative, Big Cat Habitat and the businesses of the Packinghouse district, as well as nearby neighborhoods and office parks.

When a critical area plan is opened, new possibilities can be created. The county will seek input "from stakeholders and the general public." This is tricky. If the critical area plan is just about the quads, who are the stakeholders? Robert Waechter and James Gabbert, who own industrial properties bordering on parcel #2? The key will be the borders and scope of work, which need to include the full range of options for future uses on this land -- not simply the "lens" of the Lambert Advisory report. More background here and here.

Seen from highway: Owner James Gabbert who plans a Waste Transfer Station
on this six-acre site.  Beyond the treeline is Parcel #2, with the Celery Fields in background

2. It is confirmed that James Gabbert will receive the long-sought permit to build his Waste Transfer Facility, or WTF, on the six-acre parcel he owns at Porter and Palmer (the left rectangle of parcel 2). It's the first property one sees when coming from the West through the Palmer I-75 underpass.

Mr. Gabbert is expected to receive final approval (no public hearing required) within two weeks. For those wondering what can be done  to mitigate this authorized blight, we'll have some suggestions in the coming week. We'd like to hear yours as well.

3. Sarasota Audubon will hol a workshop about saving public lands from development - see the attached flyer. It's an opportunity to learn some important things. It's free at the Audubon Nature Center (at the foot of Mt. Celery) on Feb. 15, 1:30 pm.

As always, thanks for caring about our entire Celery Fields area -- and about honest, transparent, sensible planning.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Fire Station workshop set for Jan. 23

Parcel #3 -- the NW quadrant at Apex and Palmer -- has long been considered for the site of a new Fire Station. A neighborhood workshop is set for Wednesday Jan. 23, 6 p.m. to describe the plan and receive community feedback. Brian Lichterman is the agent, and the workshop will meet at Colonial Oaks Park Meeting Room A, 5300 Colonial Oaks Blvd. More detail below.

Friday, January 4, 2019

New Power Lines will not be near Celery Fields

FPL has made its decision on the route of the new transmission lines that will support growth in East Sarasota County, and it's the choice preferred by the communities near the Celery Fields, Sarasota Audubon, and the Fresh Start Initiative -- the route along Clark Road:

FPL Power line route along Clark Rd (click image to enlarge)

Celery Fields advocates and residents had expressed concern at an optional route that would have taken the tall power lines along Palmer Blvd and Apex Rd. near the birding, wildlife and recreation area. Here is the communication from FPL manager Rae Dowling:
After an extensive route selection study by the project team, that included feedback from a diverse Community Advisory Panel, an open house meeting, and meetings with neighborhood groups and community leaders, I’m writing to let you know that Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) has selected its preferred route for the proposed Bobwhite-Howard 138 kV transmission line. On behalf of the entire project team, I want to thank you for your participation in our Community Advisory Panel and for the time you invested providing your perspectives for us to consider in our study.  Having the perspective of our customer’s voice in important to us and we truly value your contribution to this important project. The preferred route, which is included in the attachment to this email, follows along almost the entire 13-mile length of existing FPL transmission and distribution lines, a siting criteria consistently endorsed by our customers. Route surveying work will begin on this project this month.  If you have any questions, please contact myself at the numbers below or Daniel Hronec, P.E., Project Manager at (561) 904-3638 or by email at Thank you. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

For a happier new year for the Celery Fields

Chuck Behrmann's photos at the Celery Fields speak eloquently to the special nature of Sarasota's unique bird sanctuary. The pristine protection it affords over 226 species of birds was not the result of some government plan.

Wise governmental stewardship would acknowledge Nature's gift and do everything to protect it from harsh or incompatible development. 

Sandhill Crane preening at the Celery Fields wetlands - Chuck Behrmann.
Good stewards would make sure nearby public lands are not used in a way that would impair the quality of the land, air, water, and wildlife. Sensible stewards would give this precious area an adequate buffer zone, sufficient parking, and healthy options for nearby public properties. They would use Critical Area Planning to develop a suitable vision in concert with the community

Let's work to make this a truly happy New Year for all.

photos courtesy of the Celery Fields group or from this blog.