Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Fresh Start Presentation (Video) of 9.12.18

Here's the video presentation made to the Sarasota County Commissioners by the Fresh Start team on Sept. 12, 2018. Beneath the video are two slides used in the presentation.

Growth Context

Connectivity Context

Our recent Petition with more than 1,040 signatures and more than 370 comments was also submitted in print form.

Media Update: Fresh Start and the Celery Fields, 2017-18

Sarasota News Leader Fresh Start Initiative leaders plead for County Commission to undertake commonsense approach to future planning around Celery Fields, making use of connectivity and recreational opportunities  (For non subscribers: Link courtesy of publisher)

Herald Tribune  Matrullo: Protect sites near Celery Fields

Sarasota News Leader The goal is to maintain a welcoming place

WWSB ABC 7 MySuncoast: Community group leaves disappointed by Commissioners response to Celery Fields proposal  (Taylor Torregano reporting, 9.12.18

Herald Tribune: Plans for land around Sarasota County’s famed Celery Fields still up in the air

Local Group Turns In Celery Fields Proposals - (video) Taylor Torregano reporting, 7.13.18

WWSB ABC 7 Fresh Start Initiative Submits Proposals for Celery Fields (print)

WUSF Tampa: A Community Group Presents How Public Wants To Use Land At Celery Fields In Sarasota 7.12.18

"Cultivating Happy Accidents" - Urban Planner Daniel Herriges discusses the Celery Fields public lands and the Legacy Trail controversy in addressing land use practices in Sarasota County, in Strong Towns.
The root problem is that Sarasota County will have budget shortfalls for the foreseeable future because its development pattern is unproductive.

Sarasota News Leader

The Observer

Commission eager to find profitable use for Celery Fields properties April 25, 2018

Group to give ideas for land by Celery Fields April 18, 2018

Residents to give commission ideas for future of county-owned land Dec. 7, 2017

Commission votes not to allow recycling facility outside of Celery Fields, Aug. 23, 2017

Herald Tribune
Celery Fields advocates propose uses for surrounding land

FPL weighs option on transmission line route east of Interstate 75

Lyons: Why so much county welcome for an unwanted neighbor?

WMNF Tampa: Sarasota environmentalists oppose waste facility near Celery Fields

WGCU (NPR Fort Myers-Naples-Sarasota) + WUSF (NPR Tampa)
Sarasota Planning Board Rejects Plant at Celery Fields, June 2, 2017
Celery Fields Birding Enthusiasts Hope Serenity Remains, June 14, 2017
National Audubon Society President Focuses on Florida

***Alan Cohen interviews Cathy Antunes, Audubon's Rob Wright, and former Sarasota Commissioner Jon Thaxton about the influence of money upon County Officials:***

WTSP 10 Tampa

WSLR Sarasota

WSLR Sarasota

Peace & Justice Weds Aug 16, 2017 – 9 a.m. – Sarasota Sustainability and Celery Fields

Celery Fields in the News - 16 news stories about the Celery Fields

WSRQ - The Detail: Cathy Antunes Show
Jan 20, 2017 - Tom Matrullo
Feb. 10, 2017 - Adrien Lucas & Tom Matrullo
Feb. 24, 2017 - Rob Wright
March 3, 2017 - Wade Matthews
April 7, 2017 - Adrien Lucas & Tom Matrullo
May 26, 2017 - Glenna Blomquist, Brian Lichterman, Jono Miller, Tom Matrullo
June 9, 2017 - Carlos Correa & Luigi Verace
Aug. 18, 2017 - Adrien Lucas
Aug. 25, 2017 - Adrien Lucas & Tom Matrullo
Dec. 1, 2017 - Elizabeth Gomez-Mayo, Dan Kriwitzky & Tom Matrullo
April 20, 2018 - Carlos Correa & Gary Walsh 

Control Growth Now News

CONA Sarasota Meetings

Herald Tribune Letters to the Editor

County should postpone sale of lands next to Celery Fields

Debris Plant at Celery Fields - Jono Miller

NEXT . . .

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A welcoming place

Matrullo: Protect sites near Celery Fields

A consultant's report commissioned by Sarasota County recently recommended selling Parcel #3 of the Quad Parcels near the Celery Fields for an 80,000 square foot industrial operation. 

In the course of its analysis, the Consultant, Lambert Advisory, offered the image to the left, which shows parcel #3, a nine-acre site, surrounded by an office/industrial area to the north, and a similar smaller grouping to the west.

The image seems to suggest that the prevailing zoning supports selling Parcel #3, now public land, to a private industrial developer.

Is the "aerial" image a reasonable representation upon which to make a fair judgment? Let's go to Google Maps, and see what happens if we slightly widen the view from the air:

Relative size of industrial area and Celery Fields 

From this vantage we see that parcel #3 actually faces the quite large (360 acres) open area of the Celery Fields, rich in wildlife, wetlands, and recreation, to the East. The single most imposing feature of this entire area is formed by the plateau and waters of the Celery Fields -- a much used and touristed area that already lacks sufficient parking or complementary uses necessary to support it. (Audubon report.)

It appears that Parcel #3 could be sold on the pretext that the county needs money. The Commission won't consider raising taxes or raising impact fees, which would balance the costs to the taxpayers of new development. Yet one Commissioner recently stated that the county is in terrific financial shape and has no shortfalls. Thus the pressure to sell our public lands would appear to be non-existent.

The Lambert Advisory study makes it seem like the only reasonable option is industry, recommending an 80,000-square-foot building on parcel #3. It finds vehicular traffic insufficient to consider commercial use, even though the site is within a short walk of the very busy and successful Detwiler’s produce market through the Palmer Boulevard underpass.

If rezoned to industry, our public lands would likely be saddled with large warehouse operations, manufacturing, demolition, or other uses whose sole object is to maximize a private developer's own profit. The impacts feared by many who opposed two industrial proposals last year -- Restaurant Depot and James Gabbert's waste processing operation -- would be there: truck traffic, potential pollution, disruption of the natural flow of the area, potential disturbance to nesting birds, and more.

The Fresh Start Initiative opposes the sale of these public lands to private industrial developers. Our communities love the Celery Fields, and desire nothing more than a sensible area plan that could address the lack parking and of complementary support systems. It's as simple as having a place to walk to for a bite to eat, or where one could relax with friends before or after walking Mt. Celery, near the birds and other wildlife. One could add community programs for children that would offer opportunities to learn about ecology, birds, water, stormwater engineering, and more.

A combination of environmental precaution, neighborhood prudence, and common sense provision drives Fresh Start's effort to preserve all three Quad Parcels for public benfit.

This is not a political issue. It's simply neighbors taking a clear-eyed assessment and finding that the "highest and best use" of our public lands is to invest in our communities, protect our valuable natural treasure, and serve the people who live and work here, whose lands these are.

On Wednesday, Sept. 12, Fresh Start will ask that the County dedicate the Quad parcels to beneficial public uses in perpetuity.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Recognition of the "national caliber" of the Celery Fields

In view of the brand new Lambert Advisory report recommending industrial rezoning for one of the Quad Parcels -- precisely the issue that caused a major outcry last year when James Gabbert and Restaurant Depot proposed to put industrial installations on parcels #2 and #3 -- it's helpful to look at what the County's own staff has said about the Celery Fields area:

"Celery Fields is a national caliber example of how recreation, stormwater management and conservation strategies can be leveraged to achieve multiple environmental and recreational benefits, including becoming an international birding destination." Sarasota County Parks 2016 Master Plan, p. 7.


"Trends in resource-based recreation indicate that the public seeks nature-based education and programming at nature centers. The County might . . . consider a comprehensive assessment of nature centers at multiple locations . . .. This could be tied in with the existing facilities . . . and Sarasota Audubon Nature Center at Celery Fields." Sarasota County Parks 2016 Master Plan, p. 102.


In 2012, the County granted a ground lease to The Sarasota Audubon Society lease in recognition of the significance of the Celery Fields. In the document the County states:
"In addition to its role in the treatment and storage of stormwater, the Celery Fields serves as an important habitat and food source to many species of animals and birds . . ." Sarasota County Ground Lease Agreement with The Sarasota Audubon Society, Inc., 2012.


Letter of 2.22.17 from Sarasota Audubon Society to Commissioner Al Maio recommending denial of industrial rezoning of the Quad Parcels last year. "A phenomenal number" of federal and state listed birds have been found at the Celery Fields, whose nesting and feeding would be "at risk."

Audubon recommended county create "an advisory group of affected citizen stakeholders to work with county staff in determining a land use suitable . . ."

The full Audubon report includes a Celery Fields species checklist and statistics on tourist visits.


The Lambert Advisory Report of August 2018 notes the existing zoning for the Quad Parcels: "All commercial and industrial development is prohibited." 

It's a full circle -- in view of the changes to the area -- specifically the Celery Fields birding and recreation area -- what possible justification can there be for rezoning these parcels for industry?

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Group to present "common sense perspective" on public lands at the Celery Fields

Media Advisory

Glenna Blomquist 941-556-9526 || Tom Matrullo  941-321-7663 || 
Gary Walsh  941-377-9077 || Carlos Correa 941-735-8385

A common sense approach to planning for our common good

A citizens group will present the findings of a nine-month community process focused on public lands adjacent to the Celery Fields on Wednesday, September 12, to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners. 

The presentation will begin around 9:30 a.m. at the County Administration Building, 1660 Ringling Boulevard, Sarasota. As it is not a hearing, public input will be limited to 3 minutes before or after the agenda.

"We'll offer the perspective and vision of residents and visitors as to what these public parcels can do for our communities," said Glenna Blomquist, a member of Fresh Start. Since last December, the group has been working with HOAs in the area to identify viable and beneficial uses for the "Quad parcels" at the intersection of Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road, just west of the Celery Fields birding and recreation area and the Sarasota Audubon Nature Center.

The Celery Fields began as a stormwater management project, but has grown into a treasured spot for residents and visitors -- many drawn to its extraordinary bird population. Over 224 species, both native and migrating, have been sighted and photographed by bird lovers.

Last year two developers sought to purchase public parcels #2 and #3 in the quads, a distance of .8 mile from the birding area: one for a giant Restaurant Depot warehouse, the other for an even larger waste processing facility. The community outcry was substantial, including rallies and hours of public testimony. Both proposals ultimately failed, but the County never took the parcels off of the surplus lands list, or revised the land use designations that were set in 1981. That keeps the door open for industrial development.

"This is a highly popular Florida destination on the verge of an explosion of new development east of the highway" (I-75), said Tom Matrullo, another member of Fresh Start. "Our first thought was, why haven't these old designations been updated to reflect the tremendous changes that have come, with so much more transformation on the way?"

"The Quads"
On Wednesday the group will offer what it describes as a "carefully reasoned, but passionate analysis" of the Celery Fields context. It will examine current approved new housing development east of the highway, and zoom in on new developments immediate to the Quad parcels.

In addition to the four proposed uses determined to be most favored by representatives of 50 HOAs in the area:
  • multi-use community center
  • themed birding lodge and restaurant
  • shops, cafes and affordable housing
  • outdoor sports courts and fields 
the group will ask the Board to adopt a resolution dedicating these public lands, a total of some 30 acres, for the benefit of the public. It will also present a petition (still open) that quickly gathered more than 1,000 signatures in support of the effort.

"When you look at everything that's changed here -- from the amazing Celery Fields to the neighborhoods and Tatum Ridge School -- and then look at the big picture of where this is all going, it becomes clear that the county should invest in creating a place that both buffers the Celery Fields and supports it with complementary uses," said Gary Walsh, president of the Meadow Walk HOA.

Those uses could include any of the four already proposed, or some new combination the community prefers -- just not industry, says Carlos Correa, president of The Enclave. "We've spoken with many, many people -- not only in our communities, but planners, architects, environmentalists and visitors drawn to the area by the beauty and birding of the Celery Fields."

Looking west from "Mt. Celery"

"Gentle cultivation, not harsh industrialization," is the message on the group's blog called Fresh Start for the Celery Fields.

A Miami firm's recent analysis commissioned by the County came back with the finding that industry would be the "highest and best use" of one of the quad parcels -- parcel #3. Fresh Start notes that "highest and best use" is a term of art that looks only at potential monetization of a property, divorced from all else -- its local context (traffic, etc), community values, market trends, future economic viability and more. (More response to Lambert here.)

"The 49-page report (by Lambert Advisory LLC ) mentioned the Celery Fields twice in passing, but offered no analysis of potential impacts. It even failed to address issues from large industrial trucks," said Matrullo.

The Lambert report did not say what kind of industry might be suitable for this location. It made no distinction between a giant warehouse, a waste processing plant, or a clean, high-paying high-tech firm, said Walsh.

"When you look at all the factors -- not just dollars -- the choice seems pretty clear," says Correa. "Either you make a place that disrupts the natural beauty, flow, and preferred community uses, or you look to what the community wants and needs."

"The educational, social, and economic possibilities of the county's investing in a multi-faceted community center hold enormous value for the people," says Matrullo. "Private industry will benefit the industrial developer alone."

Fresh Start hopes to persuade the County Commission on Wednesday, Sept. 12 to look more holistically at a plan that would catalyze the unusual set of assets that includes the Celery Fields, Ackerman Park, Big Cat Habitat, and the Palmer Boulevard underpass to the Packinghouse district.

"If we don't form a common sense plan, we'll end up with fragments that add up to less than the sum of their parts," said Blomquist.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Consultant recommends industry near Celery Fields


Earlier this year, Sarasota County hired a consultant to study the "highest and best use" for parcel #3 of the public lands near the Celery Fields known as "the Quads." That report is now in (link here) -- it recommends rezoning 7 acres of parcel #3 for industrial use:

Some preliminary observations:

Specialized Approach: The $61,000 report from Miami-based Lambert Advisory LLC follows a specialized "highest and best use" (HBU) approach, which looks at real estate comparables solely to form an estimate of highest potential dollar value. By design HBU ignores quality of life, community benefit, impacts on the environment, potential social or economic gains from other uses, and basically everything other than top-dollar price for this public land.

Siloed Consultancy: Since January, Fresh Start repeatedly asked to communicate with the consultant. We were told that at the County’s direction, the Consultant was to work walled off from residents or anyone else, to “limit the influences on the data.”

Fiscal Motive Evaporates: Last November, the Commission cited a need to sell public lands to cover a temporary budget shortfall as the compelling reason for this rezoning. Since then the Board has revised its view. Commissioner Maio now says the county is in excellent fiscal health and that there is "no shortfall" this year or next (audio clip: longer; shorter). 

Warehouse south of parcel 2
Dominoes: Rezoning parcel #3 to industrial is not only about parcel #3. IF/when that rezoning is complete, the southwest parcel (#2) will be surrounded on three sides by industry (Parcel #3 to the north, James Gabbert's planned waste transfer station to the west, and Robert Waechter's warehouses immediately to the south). Private industrial interests will use this "enveloping zoning" to argue for making parcel #2  industrial. (Parcel #2 is the 10.6 acres Mr. Gabbert wished to situate a giant open waste processing facility on last year.)

Fresh Start will present a very different vision of the prospects for the Quad parcels to the commissioners next Wednesday, Sept. 12 at approximately 9:30 a.m. As it is not a public hearing, input from the public will be limited to 3 minutes before or after the Agenda.

The Fresh Start Executive Council

Thursday, August 23, 2018

On the Anniversary of the Gabbert Hearing

August 23 marks exactly one year since hundreds of Sarasota residents came out to oppose an incomprehensible proposal -- a developer seeking to operate a giant open-air industrial waste processing facility on public land at Apex Road and Palmer Blvd., a short walk from the Celery Fields bird sanctuary, wetlands, and recreation area.

Had the Board's 3-2 vote gone the other way, we might now be seeing diesel trucks on Palmer Blvd and Apex Road, coming and leaving a 16-acre construction debris and yard waste pulverizing operation on parcel #2. (Video: Gabbert hearing) Mr. Gabbert still has Board approval for a 6-acre waste transfer station at Porter and Palmer.

Last November, a group of citizens organized a coalition of neighborhoods to come up with a better idea for the Quad parcels. Fresh Start consulted the community as well as local experts, researching alternatives to selling the lands for industrial uses. The group received many ideas and conceptual proposals -- a final four were presented to the Board on July 11, 2018. All results were contained in the Fresh Start report handed in that day.

Fresh Start now has a Sept. 12th date to meet publicly with the Board. With hopes for a good decision the group will make a presentation, but is also grappling with the fact that since handing in its report, there has been no communication, no directed action, in response to our citizens' proposals. So far, Fresh Start has done all the talking. Will they find Board support? Or will each proposal in turn be weighed, found wanting, and dismissed?

We'd like to hear your thoughts -- here are some of ours: Regardless of the Board's view of any or all of our community proposals, our commitment and vision have one overriding purpose: to remove the Quad parcels from the County's surplus lands list.

So our position today is the same as it was a year ago: The Celery Fields is too valuable, too unique, too beautiful a natural treasure to degrade with industry. There's no reason to sell any of these 30 acres to a private developer when so much East Sarasota open land -- upwards of 20,000 acres at last count -- has recently been approved for private gated communities.

Before turning rural lands into sprawling housing projects, the County needs to think about the public's right to breathe clean air, travel safe roads, have police, fire and school resources at hand, and public spaces to gather, play sports, practice hobbies, and share and learn from each other -- in short, to exist as a community. The public lands at Apex and Palmer can and should be dedicated to community-oriented uses, and that's what we'll say -- with some new data and images -- in a few weeks to the Board.

So please join us Sept. 12 if you can. We'll let you know the time as soon as we know.

Meanwhile, please sign and share our Petition --- it's got hundreds of comments from those who've already signed.

 Common Sense to Protect our Celery Fields

Herald Tribune

Friday, August 17, 2018

Tough choice? Sign the Petition

This was the Celery Fields this morning, August 17, 2018:

Celery Fields, West Slope

Please sign the Petition to make sure no one comes back with a waste processing facility, or other egregiously inappropriate use, for the public - yes, PUBLIC - lands next to this clear, tranquil, happy place. Because this almost happened on August 23, 2017, for parcel #2:

Waste Facility built by James Gabbert, now WCA on Fruitville Rd., Sarasota 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Petition to protect the Celery Fields

This August 23rd will make a full year since the people showed up en masse to oppose the sale of public land for a 16-acre demolition waste facility to James Gabbert. The overwhelming public presence of the community, the many hours of sincere, unscripted testimony from a wide range of residents added up to a win: the Board voted 3-2 to deny Mr. Gabbert his waste plant

By law, no developer could return to seek to rezone our public parcel for one year. But after August 23, anyone can, because in the past year, the Board has made no change in the rules governing public parcel #2, which Mr. Gabbert wanted. Despite clear evidence of the community's will and growing awareness of the profound changes that have occurred (and they've only begun) in East County, the pubic parcels at the Celery Fields are still subject to the same land uses they were given in 1983.

After August 23, there is no guarantee that Mr. Gabbert or another industrial developer won't pay his fee and seek approval for industry served by diesel trucks within a short walk from our pristine Celery Fields bird sanctuary and recreation area. One commissioner has indicated he thinks industry makes sense at this Gateway to East County, where new homes are coming on the market daily.

For this reason, we ask you to take a moment to sign our petition urging the Board to revamp the zoning of this environmentally sensitive area with a vision for the greater good:
Sarasota County: We urge you to acknowledge this rare opportunity for public good. Do NOT sell our public lands to private developers. Protect and enhance the Celery Fields Area for all the people of Sarasota.
Thank you for remaining true to the Celery Fields.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Video: Fresh Start's April 25th Presentation to Sarasota County

This is the County video of the April 25th Fresh Start presentation of community-based proposals for Quad Parcels 1 and 2 to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners.

The process by which residents came up with over 40 proposals, which then were vetted and narrowed through a rigorous community roundtable process to four, was outlined. The proposals were then described with a powerpoint including images, and an integrative vision for the entire Celery Fields area was briefly outlined.

Fresh Start was encouraged  to refine the proposals and return with a report before the Board's vacation break. Fresh Start returned on July 11 to present an updated complete report, entitled Public Uses for Public Lands at the Celery Fields.

The April 25 presentation below begins at the 30 minute mark, and ends at 1 hr. 27 minutes: