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 Daniel.Hronec@FPL.com. 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.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

A new plan for the Celery Fields

Nowadays, mammoth condo and apartment communities are popping up all around the animal sanctuary and the nearby Celery Fields, one of the last remaining undeveloped green spaces in Sarasota County. Herald Tribune, 12.22.18.
Celery Fields, Sarasota

To the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners:
A "Critical Area Plan" (CAP) is a technical tool -- an innovation first developed by Sarasota County planning years ago. According to one of the original planners who developed and implemented CAPs over many years, the purpose of establishing a boundary for a CAP project is to insure that all the important changes a proposed development will bring to a specific area are addressed.*
As a tool for gauging compatibility, clearly the CAP boundary is not intended to encompass just the area of the project. That would not make sense.
When the Fruitville Initiative was designed, the boundaries of the CAP benefited from public input, solicited by the County.
On Sept. 12, 2018, the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners decided it was time to revisit the Critical Area Plan (CAP) for the Quad parcels near the Celery Fields in light of the current context and realities. A discussion item on this is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2019 (time to be determined).

This should provide a long overdue opportunity to envision what is possible at the Celery Fields area, considering the mismatch between old plans from 1983 and the new reality of a world-famous birding destination in the area.

Before starting the CAP process, the BCC will first need to approve the boundaries (i.e. aerial extent) and criteria (plan tasks) at a public hearing.
When Restaurant Depot’s giant warehouse proposal came before this board two years ago, their Critical Area Plan was contrived to coincide with the boundaries of its own parcel. That is to say: the impacts of the giant warehouse upon the Celery Fields and other surrounding parcels were explicitly ignored by the very planning tool that's supposed to take those impacts into account.

In advance of setting CAP boundaries and criteria for the Celery Fields, the defined process requires staff to proactively conduct public meeting(s) to solicit public input on the boundaries and criteria, much as was done at this stage of the Fruitville Initiative.

Given the success of the Audubon Nature Center, the expansion of the Big Cat Habitat, and the undeniable need for more parking and complementary facilities for the tens of thousands of birders, recreationalists and eco-tourists who flock to the Celery Fields each year, it is clearly time for the County to re-envision the entire Celery Fields Area to address its current uses, context and future needs for the people of Sarasota County.
The Fresh Start Initiative

*Sarasota News Leader

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Making Things Much Worse Indeed

Making Things Much Worse



On the impact of Benderson's Siesta Promenade on its surrounding area,Gene Kusekoski, president of the Siesta Key Association, says this:


"The problem with the current Siesta Promenade proposal is EXACTLY about the “What" and the "Where." If this project was being proposed by the most universally beloved organization on earth, it would still be facing strong opposition because it is quite simply the wrong size and scale for that location.

"Adjacent neighbors who used to have landscaped single-story mobile homes across the street would now be looking up at 40- to 85-foot buildings. Their neighborhood streets that are barely wide enough for two cars to pass would be flooded with hundreds of cars going in and out of the development." 


Yet: The County (prodded by Bob Waechter and Bo Medred and Jim Gabbert) keeps saying that industry is appropriate at the Celery Fields because it is already there (although it's mostly set back and not on Palmer Blvd.). Why would the county cite existing compatibility with something as a reason for more of same at the Celery Fields, but go along with a radical shock to a settled area that is full of people, not industrial operations?

The 360-acre Celery Fields dwarfs the small old industrial area to its left, set back from Palmer Blvd.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Public input to the reopened Critical Area Plan at the Celery Fields

We last wrote to the Board requesting that citizens be included when the Board reopens the Critical Area Plan for the Celery Fields:

Yesterday came this reply from Jane Grogg of Planning:
Good afternoon, 
The Board direction was for staff to bring back a scope of work for amendment to the Critical Area Plan by January. If they decide to move forward, staff would perform the analysis and hold associated public workshop(s) before returning to the Board with the draft amendments. The Board would then have the option to authorize the amendment process for hearings at the Planning Commission and Board. Since this is an existing CAP, the boundaries of the CAP is have already been adopted.
Thank you,

Given the active and intense interest in our communities as to the fate of this area, and given that the county has not begun to provide the necessary support for its continued safe and protected existence as a bird sanctuary, public recreation space, and natural habitat for wildlife, we believe that our communities and the public in general have earned the right to play a real part in basic decision making that will result from reopening the CAP.

One key element of reopening the CAP is in fact the opportunity to take a new look at its boundaries. 

As this goes forward, the CAP can be modified to allow more robust roads, and therefore allow for industry. Or, it can be modified in accord with the values and vision of the community. Which way will our Board and staff go?

Thank you for your commitment to the welfare of our neighborhoods.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Email to Staff: Public Input on the CAP process for the Quad parcels

Email October 17, 2018

Dear Matt Osterhoudt and Jane Grogg,

On Sept. 12, 2018, the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners wisely decided that it was time to revisit the Critical Area Plan (CAP) for the Quad parcels near the Celery Fields in light of the current context and realities. 

This provides a long overdue opportunity to envision what is possible, rather than trying to adapt it to outdated planning decisions.

Before starting the CAP process, the BCC will first need to approve the boundaries (i.e. aerial extent) and criteria (plan tasks) at a public hearing. 

In advance of that hearing, it is appropriate for staff to proactively conduct public meeting(s) to solicit public input on the boundaries and criteria, much as was done at this stage of the Fruitville Initiative.

As the future of these public lands is of demonstrable public interest, please advise as to your timing, scope, and process.

Thank you,

Glenna Blomquist, Carlos Correa, Tom Matrullo, Gary Walsh
Executive Council, Fresh Start

Friday, October 12, 2018

Commission calls for analysis before rezoning Quad parcel #3

Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader:

County Commission calls for thorough staff analysis of ‘Northwest Quad’ near the Celery Fields, and surrounding area, before beginning rezoning

An aerial map shows the Northwest Quad outlined in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office

Sarasota County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo won the unanimous support of his fellow board members this week to direct staff to begin analyzing the potential rezoning of a county-owned parcel near the Celery Fields as part of the Fruitville Critical Area Plan (CAP).
The vote followed commissioners’ expressions of conflicting viewpoints on the best use of what is known as the Northwest Quad, one of four parcels remaining from the creation of the Celery Fields stormwater project. A Miami consultant hired by the county to analyze the property said the “highest and best use” — a technical term regarding the greatest financial return to the county — would be as the site of 75,000- to 80,000-square-foot industrial facility. The firm estimated proceeds of $1.3 million to the county in the event the land were rezoned and sold for such a purpose.
However, in response to a question from Caragiulo, Eric Liff, a principal of Lambert Advisory, conceded that the firm did not take into consideration the constraints of the road network in the vicinity of the property.
“Did that come into play at all when you came down to the valuation?” Caragiulo asked.
“We’re assuming that through the development process, there are ways to mitigate [the traffic problems],” Liff replied.
Then Liff told Caragiulo, “That’s not taken into consideration in this analysis.”

Commissioner Paul Caragiulo. File photo

“In this case,” Caraguilo said, referring to the area of Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road, “just about anything [except] a lemonade stand not seating more than five people” will lead to more traffic problems.
“That road can’t be widened,” Commissioner Charles Hines noted of Palmer Boulevard.
Chair Nancy Detert and Hines both talked about the potential of workforce housing on the Northwest Quad, while Commissioner Alan Maio pointed out that leaders of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County have bemoaned the scarcity of property zoned for Industrial, Light & Warehousing (ILW) uses.
“I would not like to see any outdoor facilities that would result in pollution, such as concrete things flying around in the air,” Detert said of the Northwest Quad. “Metal recycling would not be good. … I would really prefer a recreational use, if possible.” However, she added that she would be agreeable to a warehouse with all uses contained inside that structure.
In reference to comments from people who had addressed the board at the beginning of its regular meeting on Oct. 10, Maio stressed, “We’re notgoing to hurt the Celery Fields, and no one here is prepared to do anything that impacts the new use that a stormwater [project] has evolved to.”
As Commissioner Michael Moran pointed out, many years ago, when the county was preparing to undertake the stormwater project that became the internationally renowned bird-watching area called the Celery Fields, the owner of the land insisted the county purchase the four adjacent “Quads” parcels.
Moran noted that the county’s intent always was to sell the Quads.
Before the Kimley-Horn and Associates consulting firm — in which he was a principal owner — created the Celery Fields at the county’s behest, Maio explained, “we had substantial in-structure, in-home intrusions of water during major events.”

A graphic shows the three ‘Quads’ parcels (outlined in red) originally under consideration for sale as surplus land. The Southeast and Southwest Quads are not on the market, at commission direction. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Later, as Maio also pointed out, the Northeast Quad was devoted to construction of a retention pond that would make the other three parcels open for development without stormwater concerns, thus increasing their value.
“I don’t think there’s a reason to not use [the Northwest Quad] for something,” Maio added.
“Some folks in the public say, ‘Leave ’em all alone,” Hines said. “I disagree with that.”
Hines talked of his desire to sell the land because of the need to start building back up the board’s Economic Uncertainty Reserve Fund. Another recession will come, Hines pointed out, and the county is running out of the “rainy day” reserve that previous commissions set aside before the Great Recession.
Maio concurred with the need for the funds the sale of the Northwest Quad would bring. He indicated that comments he has made while campaigning for re-election have been misconstrued. The board approved balanced budgets for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, he said, without tax increases. Nonetheless, staff had put hundreds of hours into developing a surplus property list, because the county does need the revenue, he added.

This is the Aug. 22 budget model showing the General Fund projections, factoring in passage of two state homestead exemptions on the Nov. 6 ballot. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“We’ve been very lucky with property value increases [the past few years],” Hines said.
Next steps
After Caragiulo made his motion, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, explained that the first step would be for staff to come back to the board with a proposal for the scope of work for inclusion of the property in the Fruitville CAP.
Commissioners emphasized that staff should not feel rushed to accomplish that.
“This isn’t an urgency thing that we need in two weeks,” Hines pointed out, referring to the previous day’s discussion about leasing county land at Nathan Benderson Park to Mote Marine Laboratory for a new aquarium. (See the related story in this issue.)
Maio suggested early January for the staff presentation. “Understood,” Osterhoudt replied.
In response to a Sarasota News Leader question, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant wrote in an Oct. 10 email that the work on the Northwest Quad is a two-phase project. The first was the economic and market analysis, which included the Lambert Advisory report. The expense of that phase was $33,695, Grant added.
The second phase will entail the necessary amendment to the Fruitville CAP and the rezoning, she continued, at a cost of $25,345.
Considering the potential uses

This is one vista of the Celery Fields in eastern Sarasota County. image courtesy Sarasota County

During a Nov. 28, 2017 budget workshop, Commissioner Maio won his colleagues’ support for the hiring of a consultant to consider the highest return on the Northwest Quad that the county could gain through the rezoning of the property. Lambert Advisory won the contract through a county-advertised Request for Proposals process, Maio pointed out on Oct. 10.
The commissioners concurred this week that they want any potential future buyer of the 7 acres available on the Northwest Quad to be certain of the zoning restrictions.
“Though office and residential opportunities comprise higher density development,” the firm’s report said, “their valuations are heavily impacted by the relatively narrow margin between the valuation of operating income and development cost.”
Lambert Advisory put the value of the Northwest Quad at $375,000 if it were to be used for a residential project; for office space, the value would be $150,000.

A chart in the Lambert Advisory report provides an industrial market snapshot for Sarasota County. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The report said the Northwest Quad appears to be able to support between 75,000 and 80,000 square feet of industrial development. “At this time, industrial development is the most compatible use relative to surrounding development,” the report adds.
In response to a question from Detert on Oct. 10, Liff explained that the definition of “highest and best use” is “the reasonably probable and legal use of vacant land or an improved property that is physically possible, appropriately supported, financially feasible and results in the highest value.”
Hines first broached the idea of workforce housing on the 7-acre site. (Another 2 acres of the parcel contains a manufactured building housing a fire station; it is scheduled to be replaced with a modern structure for firefighters and EMS crews. The design is underway, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis told the board.)
Hines also told his colleagues he was open to the idea of workforce housing on the Southwest and Southeast Quads.
“There’s a significant amount of jobs in this area,” Hines pointed out. Additionally, “You have a massive park that’s right there,” he continued, referring to the Celery Fields.
Hines then talked about the months-long effort of a group representing 50 homeowner associations in the area — the Fresh Start Initiative — which had worked at the board’s direction to come up with ideas for the Southwest and Southeast Quads. The group last appeared before the board on Sept. 12, when it urged the commissioners to consider the needs of the residents in the area and the growing reputation of the Celery Fields.
It has proposed recreational uses and perhaps a community center or ecotourism lodge on those other two parcels.

An ecotourism lodge has been one proposal of the Fresh Start Initiative. Image courtesy of the Fresh Start Initiative

Tom Matrullo, one of the Fresh Start leaders, pointed out during public comments on Oct. 10 that the commission already has approved six new housing projects that will entail 3,470 homes “within a short walk or drive from [the Northwest Quad] and the Celery Fields.”
“The Celery Fields is a pretty magnificent place,” Matrullo continued. “Many counties would consider themselves lucky to have it.”
“One thing I liked a lot [in the September Fresh Start presentation],” Hines said, was the potential of creative improvements to the Interstate-75 underpass to provide connectivity to Palmer Boulevard and the Celery Fields. A multi-family development on the Northwest Quad could take advantage of the walking and bicycling options, he added.
“I think that sounds great,” Detert replied.”
Another idea, Detert proposed, would be a combination commercial/residential development with amenities similar to those at Topgolf Tampa. That company’s website touts more than 100 “climate-controlled hitting bays,” a full-service restaurant and bars, private event spaces; a rooftop terrace with a fire pit; and more than 200 high-definition TVs.
“We should actually take advantage of the fact that the Celery Fields are there and continue along that recreational avenue,” she pointed out.

A graphic in the Fresh Start video shown to the board on Sept. 12 makes clear the location of the Quads. Image courtesy Sarasota County

When the commissioners asked about the uses available on the Northwest Quad now, Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson explained that the property is zoned Open Use Rural, which is devoted largely to agricultural uses. Through the special exception approval process, Thompson said, other uses could include a daycare center and a church, for examples.
Michele Norton, manager of the county’s Planning and Zoning Division, explained that any rezoning of the property would necessitate “reopening” the Fruitville CAP.
“I would be fine with having this rezoned to ILW,” Hines said. Multi-family housing and restaurants are among the uses allowed in such districts, he pointed out.
Noting the surrounding businesses, he added, “ILW’s compatible with everything that’s there.”
“I’m just not in any big rush to do anything here,” Commissioner Caragiulo told his colleagues.
Therefore, he continued, he felt an analysis through the CAP process would be appropriate.
The traffic issues have to be addressed, Caragiulo said.
The CAP analysis, Maio replied, “does more flesh out the details of the rezoning … what’s going to be required. “[Potential buyers] gotta know what they’re going to get.”
“I think that actually facilitates a little better community conversation,” Caragiulo said of utilizing the CAP process.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Board takes unexpected action on Quad Parcels

The Board of Sarasota County Commissioners today considered its Miami consultant's recommendation that parcel #3 be rezoned industrial and sold to a private end user. County staff did not recommend the proposal from Lambert Advisory, the consultant that did the assessment.

Herald Tribune story here.

After hearing from the consultant, Board discussion took many twists and turns, bringing in members' thoughts on parcels 1 and 2. All said they wished to share ideas while they could -- sunshine laws preventing discussion outside of the public eye.

Upshot: At Commissioner Caragiulo's recommendation, the Board voted unanimously to direct planning staff to look at possible modifications of the Critical Area Plan (CAP) which currently controls changes to the area -- for example, to the roads. The roads have been the limiting factor as they cannot be widened under the current CAP.

Planning staff are to return after Jan. 1 after looking at what can be done if the CAP is modified. This could open a new spectrum of possibilities: If the county wishes, it could integrate our public lands into a larger area coordinated to highlight and support the Celery Fields (a possibility that Fresh Start has raised in its "visioning"). On the other hand, the County could also make the roads more robust, then justify industry on one or more quad parcel.

We'll keep an eye on things. The election is coming, and the results will be crucial for the Celery Fields area.

Fresh Start's latest input to the Board is linked below:

Finally, thanks to all -- sincerely -- who have remained staunchly supportive of Fresh Start's efforts, over the past 10 months.

Glenna Blomquist, Carlos Correa, Tom Matrullo, Gary Walsh
Fresh Start Executive Council

Statement to Board at discussion of Lambert industrial recommendation at Celery Fields

Quad parcel #3 is near the Celery Fields, not far from an elementary school, surrounded by thousands of new housing units you have recently approved. It’s owned by the public.

Last year, when two developers tried to buy and industrialize these public lands, you saw -- and heard -- heartfelt public opposition.

Now that the Board itself is playing the role of industrial developer, people will naturally ask why. They’ll want you to show that the proposed intensification will not endanger persons, property values, roads, or the community. None is in your paperwork for this discussion.

Does the lack of analysis mean that the public, who own this land, should not expect accountability, but instead just give you our trust?

Perhaps it’s difficult for you to offer a reason because this plan is not reasonable.

You have a letter from Fresh Start that summarizes numerous reasons why this plan and the study it’s based on are inadequate.

I have time for just one factor: You’ve approved six housing projects -- Worthington, Artistry, Sylvan Lea, Garden Village, Live Oak, and the Fruitville Initiative - a total of 3,470 new homes within a short walk or drive from parcel 3 and the Celery Fields.

At the same time, you’re seeking to allow an 80,000-square-foot industrial facility on parcel #3.

It’s as if you are seeing two completely incompatible versions of the same place at the same time. Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Waechter told you these fragile roads are already too full of dangerous large trucks to allow for a simple public park. Well how much more dangerous will they be after all the new homes are built, along with the 80,000-square-foot industrial facility?

What you in fact are planning is a slow motion car wreck -- a collision of industry and human lives that will imperil people, property, and community.

This can happen when you blind yourself to the larger picture.

At the same time, you’ve made no provision for the Celery Fields. It’s a pretty magnificent place, which many counties would consider themselves lucky to have. It needs some simple things -- parking, a shaded cafe, an exercise area.

Last month Fresh Start respectfully proposed that the Board dedicate the Celery Fields Quads to beneficial public uses in perpetuity

It’s a good plan. Stop this effort to put industry that no one wants in a place it no longer belongs. Stop it today, forever. Your communities, tourists, our children and 225 species of highly discriminating birds will thank you.

-- Tom Matrullo

After hearing from the consultant and considerable discussion, the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners agreed to direct staff to study reopening the Critical Area Plan for the Quad Parcels for possible modifications, and to come back after Jan. 1, 2019.