Saturday, July 14, 2018

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

WWSB ABC 7 MySuncoast: 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

Fresh Start Initiative to present ‘Quads’ proposals to County Commission on morning of April 25, April 19 (non subscription link)

Celery Fields advocacy group to present proposals to County Commission about potential uses of county land near popular park, April 5, 2018

One ‘Quad’ parcel next to Celery Fields to be kept by county, with advocates for the bird-watching area invited to suggest uses for a second parcel, Nov. 30, 2017

New collaboration of Celery Fields advocates seeks to persuade County Commission to take nearby county parcels off list of surplus lands for sale, Oct. 19, 2017

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


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 . . .

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Public Uses for Public Lands At the Celery Fields

This is the updated report submitted to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners on July 11, 2018. It can also be downloaded here:

To:     The Board of Sarasota County Commissioners
From: The Fresh Start Initiative
Re:     Update Report
Date:  July 11, 2018

The Executive Council of Fresh Start is pleased to present this update report, Public Uses for Public Lands at the Celery Fields, which offers our communities’ sense of the highest and best use of the quad parcels at Apex and Palmer Boulevard at the Celery Fields.

This update focuses on progress made since our last report of April 25th, 2018 (our prior reports are attached for ease of reference). We anticipate that you will address this community request for action after your summer break, and we look forward to a positive outcome for our community.

Brief background

On Nov. 28th, 2017, the Board granted the Fresh Start Initiative time to determine the priorities of our communities in the area of the Celery Fields with regard to appropriate and feasible uses for two of the three Quad parcels. Specifically you removed parcel #1 from the surplus list, and chose not to put parcel #2 out for sale pending the Fresh Start effort. You directed that a consultant be hired to rezone parcel #3 for “highest and best use,” with the intent to sell it. [Minutes (1)]

On April 25th, we reported that our residents and an advisory panel had examined over 40 conceptual ideas and proposals from our communities. Through a process of expert evaluation and rigorous community selection (method described in April 25th presentation), four proposals were deemed to best meet the four criteria of feasibility, compatibility with the area, utility to the neighbors, and economic viability:

For Parcel 1:
1. A multi-use community facility - trails, gardens, a wedding pavilion, meeting area.
2. A Celery Fields-themed nature lodge/restaurant with platforms for birders.
For Parcel 2:
3. A boulevard style set of shops, fooderies, and upstairs residences.
4. Outdoor sports courts and fields built, run, and maintained by the Sarasota YMCA.
The community expressed the highest support -- 84% -- for option 4, the $1 million YMCA proposal featuring pickleball, tennis, basketball, a shaded exercise area, open sports field, parking, pavilion and gourmet food truck area. Since April, at your direction we have focused on refining that proposal and addressing questions raised in our individual meetings with the Board and with staff in May and June.

Survey and Site Analysis

In May, Fresh Start performed a short survey (4) of its HOAs asking what sports fields -- for soccer, baseball, football -- and sports courts -- pickleball, tennis, and basketball -- currently are available to them. It turns out that none of these facilities are publicly available East of I-75. To reach the nearest tennis, baseball or soccer fields required drives of up to 9 miles. It turns out that nearly all public sports fields and courts lie west of the Interstate at Colonial Oaks, Fruitville Park, 17th Street, each with limited facilities to serve its nearby communities.

Also in the past couple of months, Tampa-based SEER Analytics performed a site study authorized by the Sarasota YMCA which is attached to this report (3). It reveals a substantial user base within a short radius of parcel #2: More than 43,500 households would be within easy driving distance of the facility. The SEER study includes detailed demographic data and finds a ready community of households to make use of a YMCA facility there.

Learning & volunteering: YMCA and Audubon

We’ve also learned more about the YMCA’s range of programs for children. In certain counties, YMCAs lease parklands to provide summer camps. At the Celery Fields, the Sarasota Y could offer a rich array of children’s programs making great use of the natural treasures right next door. Think of kids birding with Audubon volunteers, and fishing, hiking, and kayaking with YMCA leaders. A YMCA at the Celery Fields would amplify the range and richness of what our community’s seniors and children can experience.

Zooming Out

We thank you for the opportunity to present these proposals, which grew out of a half-year of serious community outreach, consultation, feedback and choices. The ball is now in your court. As a final consideration, let’s zoom out from this present moment, and remember what brought us to this point.

On August 23, 2017, this Board experienced the community’s shock and outrage that an open air industrial waste facility would even be considered for parcel #2:
  • Residents of neighborhoods that didn’t exist when the area was zoned MEC in 1983 spoke of profound changes the area has seen, and how much the Celery Fields means to them. 
  • Environmental groups reminded you of the County’s extraordinary good fortune in having an eco-tourist wonderland attractive to 224 species of birds evolve from a stormwater project. 
  • Citizens wondered what planning principles and vision would allow consideration of heavy industrial uses in this ecologically sensitive area with fragile roads.
After the August 23, 2017 hearing, many believed the Board would direct staff to take a fresh look at this area, consult residents, and work to optimize its potential. Fresh Start arose out of that concern. Even now, a year later, an industrial proposal could compromise the community.

If we zoom out further, big projects are coming. Large-scale housing tracts plan more than 27,000 homes on 20,700 acres stretching from University Parkway at the north end down past Fruitville, Bee Ridge, and Clark roads to SR 681 near Venice. Sarasota County’s open spaces and country roads are vanishing forever.

Commissioners, it is the responsibility of your office to evaluate these large proposed developments in light of public infrastructure, services, and amenities. We take this opportunity to assert the public’s right to a vision that balances private development with public needs.

Fresh Start urges the Board to take this small step towards a proactive vision and a positive direction for the future of Sarasota’s people. On behalf of our 50 communities we ask your support for a YMCA sports facility on the 10.6 acres of Quad Parcel #2. Ideally, all four quad parcels should be dedicated to sensible, interrelated uses that will become more acutely necessary as East Sarasota builds out. Staff has outlined the requisite re-zoning actions for each of our four proposals (8).

Sarasota County is at a significant crossroads: The Board can dedicate these public lands to optimal public uses, or sell them to industrial developer

                           THIS . . .         or              THIS?

Vote for your community’s future: Let’s make a healthy fresh start at the Quads for East Sarasota County.

Thank you.

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

Public Parcels at Apex Rd. and Palmer Blvd.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

An interim update

Quad Parcels 1,2,3
This is a preview of the Updated Report that Fresh Start will submit to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners in mid-July, before they take their holiday break. We look forward to a public hearing after the Board return in late August or early September.

Since our April 25th report, we have deepened and refined our proposals, in particular the YMCA proposal which gained the highest level of support -- 84% -- from our community.

So here in brief is where we are:

Thanks to our HOAs who responded to our Neighborhood Survey on publicly accessible athletic facilities, we were able to visualize what East County athletic resources our HOAs currently have available to them -- virtually none. That large red oval contains no public athletic fields or sports courts. 

If you live on East Palmer Blvd., you are looking at drives of up to 9 or more miles to public athletic fields, tennis, basketball or pickleball courts, most of which are west of the Interstate.

East County neighborhoods 

The need for sports-related resources will grow more acute as the area grows. Parcel #2, with 10.6 acres of public property, seems an excellent option for a YMCA. We think the location makes sense for many reasons - including the educative potential of being near the Celery Fields. To quote from our report-in-progress:
At the Celery Fields, the Sarasota Y could offer a rich array of children’s programs making great use of the natural treasures right next door. Think of kids birding with Audubon volunteers, and fishing, hiking, and kayaking with YMCA leaders. A YMCA at the Celery Fields would amplify the range and richness of what our community’s seniors and children can experience. 
There's another element in the image shown above: The names "Hi Hat Ranch" and "Lindvest." These are but two of several large-scale housing tracts either underway, or with plans for approval -- they include Waterside, LT Ranch, Grand Lakes, as well as Hi Hat and Lindvest. These five projects (plenty more are coming) total over 27,000 units of housing on more than 20,000 acres of East Sarasota, stretching from University Parkway to SR 681 near Venice. (More details here.)

It seems reasonable that the County would see the need to plan long-range for the roads, services, and amenities all those new residents will need. Fresh Start's proposals for the Quad parcels offer a good start.

Perhaps there's a larger principle to affirm here:
We take this opportunity to assert the public’s right to a vision that balances private development with public needs. 
What do you think?

Just on the practical level of parcel #2 (parcel #1 is off the surplus list, and our proposals for it remain in place), when you take the amazing changes that have occurred in our area in the past 20 years, and add in those that are coming, the Board is facing a simple choice: 

Community asset . . . or Industrial Blight

THIS . . . 
or THIS? 

We intend to file our Update on July 11, but without a public presentation that day.

Please feel free to share your thoughts between now and then with us at When a public hearing is scheduled, we'll be in touch.

Thank you for your continued support and encouragement.

The Fresh Start Executive Council

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Recreational Availability East of I-75: A Survey

The Fresh Start Initiative has received several informed and detailed responses to our mini-survey about recreational facilities for our HOA base -- thank you!

We have set a deadline of June 5, and we'd like to gather as many as possible. 

Update: It's been noted that while Tatum Ridge Elementary School has soccer fields, these are run by parks and serve programmed leagues, but otherwise are closed to the public. Therefore we've added "publicly accessible" to our survey questions - as in, accessible to the public.

Some influential industrial owners say the County should rezone the Quad parcels to ILW - Industrial, Light Manufacturing, and Warehousing

In response, Fresh Start has sent a letter to the County opposing that argument. The more data supporting the need and wish for community-friendly uses we have, the better. 

So here's the survey again - thanks for your help -- respond to

Name of your HOA _________________

Does your community contain sports facilities within its boundaries?

If yes,
  • indoor - sq. feet
  • outdoor - fields? playgrounds?

If no,
  • What is the distance to the nearest publicly accessible recreational facility for indoor sports?
  • What's the distance to the nearest publicly accessible outdoor area for ball fields, football, track, etc.?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Community Vision for the Quads - Fresh Start

Update: a specific proposal for the Quad Parcels is in the works and will be presented to the Board in July. We hope the Community will come to the hearing (date TBA) and show support. There is resistance to our community-friendly proposals that only our communities can overcome.

Fresh Start, a community coalition for rational planning and land use on public lands at the Celery Fields, presented the results of its community outreach and roundtable process for parcels 1 and 2 between I-75 and the Celery Fields at its April 25th Presentation to the Commission.

All proposals had come to the Fresh Start Initiative through our community, although some were submitted by nonprofit organizations. Each proposal was examined and evaluated by a volunteer panel of advisers. Part of the vetting process was to gauge how proposals stood up to four community-based criteria:
  • Feasibility
  • Compatibility with the Area
  • Utility to Neighbors
  • Economic Viability
 Slides from the full presentation to the Board are here.

Note: Parcel #2, near the highway, is adjacent to a planned waste transfer station to the West.

Parcel #1 has the Celery Fields wetlands to the East, separated by a canal with 150' borders (Main C).

Of 41 submitted ideas and proposals, the final four are below -- the delegates from our HOAs selected two options for each parcel, and voted on them -- voting results are in parentheses. 

But the process has not stood still. Additional ideas from our community for connective elements like a roundabout, a footbridge, a bus loop and an observation tower have been coming in. 


bus loop

whimsical observation tower

Footbridge from Parcel 1 to Celery Fields

Some of these connective elements are shown in the composite images below.

Proposals for Parcel #1 12.7 acres

Community Multi-Use Area: Pavilion, adult playground, wedding spot, buffer for Celery Fields (supported by 63%):

Ecolodge with outlook on roosting areas for birds (37% support)

Below, the figure shows a combination of Nature Lodge and buffer, pavilion, trails on eastern portion on parcel #1. Additional suggestions from community shown include a roundabout at Apex/Palmer, a footbridge across the canal to the Celery Fields wetlands, and automobile ingress to parking area from Apex Road, not Palmer Boulevard:

Proposals for Parcel #2 10.7 acres

YMCA playfields, sports complex (84% support): Fully funded, $1 million investment by the YMCA in structures, commitment to fully maintain at no cost to County, leased.

Shops, Fooderies, Apartments (16% support)

Below: The two parcels, with YMCA facility on #2, and Ecolodge with trails, pavilion and buffer on #1:

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A tale of two updates

The Fresh Start Initiative presented to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners community-based proposals and for public lands at the Celery Fields as well as a broader vision for the Celery Fields area that came out of five months of discussions, panels, interviews, and a round table process (all documented on this blog).

Below a slide shows possible enhancements to the area, including a footbridge linking the public parcel #1 with the Celery Fields wetlands. Also a tourist center and a parking area, all from the April 25 power point presentation to the Board.

Also on April 25, 2018, James Gabbert resubmitted his proposal for a waste transfer station on 6 acres adjacent to public parcel #2, at Porter Rd. and Palmer Blvd.

Waste transfer station stock image

Gabbert's proposed demolition waste facility for the whole of parcel #2 last year triggered an uproar among Sarasota residents and visitors who opposed placing a dump on public land near the Celery Fields. (Timeline)

Fresh Start thanks its advisory panel, HOA presidents and signatories, delegates, and all who helped develop and refine community-based proposals as well as a larger, unifying vision for the Celery Fields area.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Fresh Start to bring community vision to Commissioners April 25

Feasibility | Economic Viability | Compatibility with the Area | Utility to Neighbors


April 18, 2018

What: Fresh Start Initiative Update
When: 9 a.m. Wednesday April 25
Where: Sarasota County Commission, 1660 Ringling Blvd.

Fresh Start to Present Proposals for Public Lands near Celery Fields

The Fresh Start Initiative will present the first-round results of its civic experiment in community-based visioning for public lands to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners on Wednesday, April 25.

The community Initiative began November 28, 2017, after the Board agreed to hold off on surplus-land decisions for two public parcels near the Celery Fields for six months while the citizen group consulted the community’s wishes for the parcels. Fresh Start cites the support of 50 HOAs surrounding the Celery Fields for the effort.

The results offer a sense of the community’s vision that could transform the two parcels, which total 23 acres, by developing them in ways that would both enhance the natural treasure already there and serve the people of the community, according to members of the group’s Executive Council.

The Quad Parcel
The parcels are at the intersection of Apex Road and Palmer Boulevard. Parcel #1 on the southeastern corner is 12.7 acres and abuts the western edge of the Celery Fields wetlands. Two bird walks there draw tourists from across the country eager to see some of the rarer of more than 225 species known to visit there. Parcel #2 on the southwestern corner has 10.7 acres. The parcels have sat vacant for 20 years.

Fresh Start’s process required time to organize and implement.

"Over the past five months, we have designed, organized and implemented a three-step process,” said Fresh Start council member Marguerite Malone. “We first elicited interest, ideas, and then proposals from our communities. Secondly, we reviewed those proposals through a strong team of local experts in planning, architecture, environment and neighborhood organization. Thirdly, we established delegates from our community who attended a roundtable meeting to discuss, listen, modify, and then vote for the best proposals."

The proposals were vetted both by the community and the Advisory Panel for their congruence with four leading criteria: Feasibility, Economic Viability, Compatibility with the Area, and Utility to Neighbors. Utilizing a weighted vote approach, the roundtable participants selected four proposals -- two for each parcel.

The proposals combine a variety of public uses with private opportunities to offer goods or services on land leased from the county, said Fresh Start member and Meadow Walk president Gary Walsh. Instead of selling the lands outright to private developers, they would remain in public hands, but provide annual revenue to the County via leases, tourist taxes, and employment. Over time that revenue could exceed what a one-time sale would bring in, he added.

The group is scheduled to present details of the four proposals to the County shortly after 9 a.m., April 25.

“In some cases the final ideas combine two or more original proposals,” said Glenna Blomquist of Fresh Start, adding, “There was a creative ferment -- ideas evolved along the way.”

Fresh Start grew out of a community uproar over a developer's proposal last year to convert one of the parcels into an open-air demolition waste processing facility. More than 300 residents concerned about traffic, health, noise, environmental harm, property values and more turned out at the County Commission's August 23 public hearing on the petition, which lasted seven hours before the Commissioners voted the proposal down.

The waste plant was a wake-up call, the group says. While the waste proposal failed, nothing prevents another developer from seeking to convert the same public parcel to heavy industrial use.

“The Board didn’t use the opportunity to direct staff to review the underlying land use provisions for the area, which were put in place nearly 40 years ago -- before many of the residential communities and businesses -- before even the Celery Fields area itself -- existed,” said Fresh Start council member Carlos Correa, president of The Enclave, a residential community on Palmer Boulevard East.

That concern prompted the formation of Fresh Start, which offered to research the area, gather community participation and input, and to come back with some conceptual plans within six months of the November 28, 2017 agreement with the Board.

“The Initiative here was to facilitate a potential synergy of community vision and county supervision,” said Tom Matrullo of Fresh Start. “We are not backing any specific plan, nor are we associated with any organization behind any proposal. We facilitated a community-based method to produce and gain consensus on coordinated, viable plans, creating the opportunity for a positive collaboration between our elected officials and our residents, who were deeply divided over the County’s handling of the Waste Plant proposal last year.”

In addition to proposals for the two parcels, ideas came up along the way for enhancements to the common areas -- a roundabout, a bus loop, a footbridge, and more. The group says such features would unify the area and hopes the County will give them consideration.

The group will present the four proposals selected at the Roundtable meeting to the Commissioners and invite them to take the next step: To authorize staff to work with community representatives on refining them.

“The enthusiasm and creativity of our citizens working on this has been extraordinary,” said Fresh Start’s Blomquist. “A balanced collaborate effort of community and County can transform these vacant public lands into a win/win: a community catalyst that interrelates commerce, history, nature, neighborhood walkability, recreation and tourism.”

Fresh Start has been given 30 minutes for presentation and discussion beginning shortly after 9 a.m. on Wednesday, April 25. The public is welcome to attend the meeting, to be held in the Commission Chamber of the County Administration Building at 1660 Ringling Boulevard. Supporters of Fresh Start plan to wear green shirts or tops.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Advisers of the Fresh Start Initiative

The Fresh Start Advisory Panel

Cathy Antunes' professional experience includes a twenty year career in executive sales with three Fortune 500 companies. A recipient of numerous national and regional sales awards throughout her career, she executed over a dozen successful product launches and served on national brand advisory committees. Antunes has served as an officer on the board of local civic non-profits, and currently hosts her radio show, The Detail, on WSRQ. She writes a monthly column for SRQ Daily and blogs at She is married to Dr. Jose Antunes and lives in the City of Sarasota.

Kafi Benz author, illustrator, graphics designer, and publisher
- president, CONA — Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations, Inc.
- founder and president, Friends of “Seagate” Incorporated
- studio director, Jim Gary’s Twentieth Century Dinosaurs
- appointee, Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Org Citizen Advisory Committee
- curator and narrator for muralist and film maker, MTO
- was instrumental in accomplishments in the field of public land acquisitions:
- establishment of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, a National Natural Landmark
- acquisition of “Seagate” (Powel Crosley Estate) by the state of Florida
- partnered with Sarasota effort to acquire Rus-in-Ur’be via Florida Forever Program

Brian Lichterman, President, Vision Planning & Design. An experienced Land Use Planner with over 34 years of public and private sector Land Use Planning experience, Brian was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin. He moved to Sarasota in 1983 and spent the next 22 years as a Senior Planner with the Sarasota County Planning Department. When working for Sarasota County, he was the recipient of numerous planning awards for innovativeness on some of the 33 corridor studies and critical area planning studies he managed throughout Sarasota County. In 2005, after leaving the County, he opened Vision Planning and Design, a Planning Consulting firm based in Sarasota, Florida.
         His firm is still very active, specializing in land entitlement by representing both public and private sector clients. As of 2018, he has successfully obtained approval of rezonings, special exceptions and comprehensive plan amendments on well over 50 properties in the Sarasota and Manatee County. In 2010, he obtained a Real Estate License and he currently works for Wagner Realty. He received a Masters Degree in Public Administration from the University of South Florida in 1996 and a Bachelor of Science in Urban and Regional Planning and Sociology from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in 1979. Reach Brian at 941-780-4166 or

Jono Miller has been a Sarasota environmental educator, activist, volunteer and sometimes consultant for the past four decades. He’s been a community leader on topics such as environmentally sensitive land protection, neighborhood parkland, voting systems, tree protection, comprehensive planning, coastal issues, cabbage palms, water supply, backyard chickens, and protection of the Myakka River. He is a member of class twenty of Leadership Florida, and in 2006 received the 1000 Friends of Florida, Bill Sadowski Award for public service at the regional/state level. He is retired from teaching and directing the Environmental Studies Program at New College of Florida.

Tim Rumage - Planetary ethicist and the Coordinator/Developer of Environmental Studies at Ringling College of Art and Design, Tim teaches courses on environmental science, sustainability, creating ecological cities, applied environmental design, food, water, biodiversity, and environmental ethics.
       Tim is also a Coordinator for Sustainability in Design Education at CUMULUS an international organization of over 200 art, design and media colleges from 50 countries. Recent work focuses on Biophilic design (the incorporation of nature’s services in urban design and infrastructure), the economic value of nature as well as climate change and sea level rise. 
       Previous endeavors include developing curriculum on sustainability and a variety of interdisciplinary projects involving habitat restoration and protection, local food production, water issues. Early research areas included Marine Mammals, Bats, Pelagic Birds, and environmental surveys. He is a frequent lecturer at other colleges and community organizations and leads workshops on Sustainability in the US, UK and EU.
       Along with David Houle, Tim co-authored the book This Spaceship Earth and co-founded the non-profit organization This Spaceship Earth, Inc.

Stephen Suau is a registered engineer with over 30 years of experience in southwest Florida. Although he has previously served as Executive Director of Sarasota County’s Growth Management and Development Services Business Center as well as Director of Sarasota County’s Stormwater Environmental Utility, he has spent most of his professional career in the private sector. His specialty is watershed management planning and water resources, including the Sarasota County’s Celery Fields and Dona Bay initiatives. Mr. Suau has engaged local communities relative to watershed management at the regional and neighborhood scales.
        A Principle and Managing Partner of Progressive Water Resources, he has a Bachelors of Science degree from the University of Illinois in Civil Engineering and a Masters in Engineering Administration from Bradley University. He resides in Sarasota, Florida and has served as chairman of the Sarasota County Stormwater Environmental Utility Advisory Committee, co-chairman of the Sarasota County Environmentally Sensitive Lands Advisory Committee, vice-chairman of the Myakka River Planning Advisory Committee, and the Sarasota County Sustainable Agriculture Policy Committee. He has also served as the Southwest Florida areas representative on the Technical Advisory Committee for the proposed State Stormwater Rule, and chaired the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce’s Green Sustainability Task Force.

Rob Wright - Mr. Wright grew up in Sarasota County and has called the area home for most of his life. Living here has sparked a deep abiding love for our water and lands natural resources and the need to manage them wisely to enhance our quality of life. His overriding philosophy is “Development should blend within nature not be placed on top of it.” He is currently Conservation Chair for Sarasota Audubon Society (SAS) and a leading voice on environmental issues.
       He served as Neighborhood Environmental Stewardship Team (NEST) Coordinator (Environmental Specialist) for Sarasota County (15 years) specializing in stormwater water quality enhancement/habitat restoration, shoreline erosion control and rehabilitation for ponds, canals and bays. He is a Certified stormwater inspector.
       Mr. Wright has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography/Coastal Zone Management, Florida Atlantic University and has been involved in the administration and implementation of water resource environmental management programs in the public and private sector for over 35 years. He has extensive experience as an environmental educator and troubleshooting water resource issues.

William C. Zoller, AIA. Architect. Born and reared in Manatee County. Graduated from MIT, worked in New York and Brussels, then returned to the area and settled in Sarasota in 1971. Established architectural practice in Sarasota. Past president of CONA, currently on Board of Directors of CONA.

Celery Fields Area

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Update: Fresh Start Round Table

On Tuesday, April 10, the overcast skies unleashed a downpour on Sarasota, a group of residents headed to Fruitville Library to think together about two parcels of land near a valued bird preserve and recreational area.

Undaunted by the weather, the group came and worked in small groups for three hours with conscientious attention, calmly and evaluating proposals for our public lands next to the Celery Fields.

At the end of their deliberations, the group came to a consensus on which proposals should go forward. Some other great ideas came out of the meeting as well. The consensus will be presented to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners on April 25th.

The three-hour round table meeting was run by Margaret Malone, who has had long experience with the format, often in corporate settings. Dr. Malone is on the Executive Council of Fresh Start. 

Each table arrived at a preferred selection of proposals, all of which had come from the community and been vetted by a panel of advisers. Those selections were then discussed by the entire room. Finally, each person was given a ballot to assign a total of 10 points in a weighted vote to those proposals they believed would best serve the community. The evaluation criteria included feasibility, utility to the community, economic viability and protective enhancement of the environment and wildlife of the Celery Fields.

For more on Fresh Start and why the community came out in heavy rain to work on plans for these public lands, read this.

The Fresh Start Initiative is sincerely grateful for all residents who participated in this proactive planning effort.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Next Steps for Fresh Start

Fresh Start: A grassroots effort to perform 
common sense planning for public lands in Sarasota.

The Fresh Start Initiative is on track. The process begun nearly five months ago to seek commonsense, community proposals for uses on two public parcels near the Celery Fields has stayed on course.

In February we called on the community to describe uses they would like to see on parcels #1 and #2. More than 40 plans and ideas came in. In March, a highly skilled group of local advisers -- architects, storm water specialists, planners, environmental specialists, urban designers and more -- gave freely of their time to help evaluate each concept in light of four criteria:
  • Feasibility - it must be doable
  • Utility - useful to the communities around it
  • Compatibility - adding to, not impairing, what's already there
  • Viability - an enhancement people will support
Now in April, it's the community's turn. On April 10, representatives from HOAs and businesses surrounding the Celery Fields will gather in a roundtable format to examine, discuss, and vote on the proposals that have been deemed viable for the area -- a variety of uses for each parcel for delegates to choose from.

Essentially they will serve as the eyes and ears of the community -- examining, comparing, discussing and voting in a roundtable format. Several advisers will be on hand for questions.

Quad Parcels at Apex and Palmer

Birdwalk in the wetlands of the Celery Fields

The votes will be tabulated, and on April 25 the proposed uses with the strongest support will be presented to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners. It would be great to have a lot of people there on the 25th (time to be announced).


Why are we doing this? Last August 23, the Board heard the people who came out in large numbers to oppose a plan for parcel #2 -- a heavy industrial waste processing facility -- and denied the petition by a vote of 3-2. Two commissioners saw no problem with putting such an operation on weak roads near a bird sanctuary, businesses, schools and homes.

Further, the Board could have taken a proactive step, directing staff to take a new look at the Celery Fields area and come up with better ideas -- even produce a new critical area plan, so developers don’t propose uses based on a 40-year-old "future" land use map.

Essentially that's what Fresh Start is about. The county is currently poised to see an explosion of growth east of I-75, which until now has been largely populated by ranches or small clusters of homes.

Fresh Start's "big picture" aim is to put rational, coherent planning of our public lands back on the radar in Sarasota County. It's not rocket science. It just requires that those who make the decisions consult the community, and that they remember that beyond the spreadsheets and profit margins of developers' business models, there's a future landscape full of people living, working, driving, raising children, walking dogs. Their future quality of life, as well as ours, is at stake in the decisions facing us today.

With some commonsense planning, growth that respects and answers to the people can be a sustainable plus for all -- especially for the residents who will be here long after the developers are gone.