|Celery Fields drone photo courtesy of Emanuel Guzman|
While things might be quiet there now, they're not dull. At the moment, our public lands adjacent to the Celery Fields are in a suspended state. We await a critical area plan report that is anticipated to be released in time for a Nov. 6 Board discussion. What the Board decides then is likely to lead to rezonings, area plan amendments, and one or more key public hearings.
Below is a recap of recent activity regarding future possible decisions on the public Quad parcels near the nature and birding sanctuary.
After the Gabbert Waste Facility hearing of August 23, 2017, the Board never swayed from its plan to sell our public land to industrial or other uses. More than 60 people spoke to them at that hearing about all the reasons the public Quad parcels should serve uses that benefit the people. The Board did nothing.
In 2018, after 10 months of input from residents who initiated a formal process to bring ideas from the community for our public lands, the Board did nothing.
Meanwhile James Gabbert began work on his Waste Transfer Station (or, the WTF) on six acres of land he bought adjacent to Quad Parcel #2. Work is ongoing - this is a heavy industrial use situated on thin, failing roads; it will be visible to drivers along the Interstate. Commissioners Al Maio and Charles Hines voted to approve this plan of Gabbert's back in 2014. For more background, see this detailed timeline.
Critical Area Plan, or CAP of the Quad parcels and the surrounding area.
That process has continued since then. Lead planner Steve Kirk held a neighborhood workshop on May 14. The Church of Hope venue overflowed with citizens offering input. No one spoke in favor of selling our public lands for commercial or industrial uses.
In advance of the workshop, several new proposals or planning concepts were submitted to the Planning Department, which reposted them on this page.
After the May 14 workshop, a few new ideas arose as well:
- Sarasota Audubon proposed an Urban Forest on Parcel #1, the SE Quad next to the Celery Fields wetlands. Such a forest would offer diversified habitat for birds, new nesting areas, as well as walkable parkland for residents.
- The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast called for identifying a larger Rural Heritage Conservation Area that would offer a variety of uses and serve as a Central Park for eastern Sarasota, which is about to explode with new development. The area would include the Quad Parcels, the Celery Fields, and more properties totaling 1,300 acres.
|Conservation Foundation Vision of Rural Heritage Area|
- In June, Commissioner Hines threw out an idea to put affordable housing on Parcel #2, and said he'd like to see some action toward that end before the Board took its summer break beginning July 22.
- In June, environmental advocate Jono Miller wrote to the Board advising against affordable housing on the Quad parcels. Miller proposed another possible use for the Quad parcels, a history and natural history center.
- A similar suggestion for a combined museum and nature center forms part of the Celery Fields Community Estate group's proposal, which also includes a wealth of creative ideas for all four parcels.
|Looking West at Sunset|
- The May 14 workshop was the sole public workshop to be held in this process. The gist of the public input was clear - "pretty black and white," as he put it.
- Kirk aims to present results of the CAP study to the Board -- the tentative date is Nov. 6, 2019.
- Planning will transmit the critical area plan results - including community input - to the Board a week before the public discussion on Nov. 6 (or whenever it's held). No information about the findings of the area planning process will be available to the public before it is transmitted to the Board, Kirk noted. The Board authorized the report, and its contents will not be shared with the public ahead of when it's sent to the Board.
- When the Commissioners discuss the CAP, that discussion is not a public hearing. Yet, at that point, the Commissioners can do as they wish - they asked for the study, but are not bound by it, so they can ignore it and proceed to authorize a rezoning for whatever purposes they wish.
- Whatever the Commissioners decide, they will probably order a rezoning of the Quad parcels, and a CAP amendment to enable changes to the plan. They could even order a Comprehensive Plan Amendment, Kirk added. Each of these processes calls for a public hearing. For example, if the Board votes to rezone one or more parcels for industrial use, even if no industrial developer is known to be asking for it, that rezoning process can go forward.
EDITOR's NOTE: This could lead to a peculiar step in planning: At an industrial rezoning hearing, for example, the public will be given the opportunity to speak, but there might be no information as to what sort of industrial use could eventually go on these lands near the Celery Fields. Should the Board decide to authorize industrial rezoning, respect for the area and for the community demands that any such directive be very specific, and include strong proactive and protective constraints: No heavy industry, no trucks, no environmental pollution, no eyesores, etc. Anything less would open the doors to yet another Gabbert waste facility, giant slovenly warehouse, or worse.
|Commissioners Hines and Detert|
The Board has not yet given any indication to Planning about affordable housing. They could address the issue upon their return. A"Think Tank" workshop for the Board is scheduled for Aug. 21.
While the Commissioners could direct planning to take steps to put affordable housing on the Quad parcels, doing so before the CAP process is complete would be out of sequence.
If the Board has any respect for sound planning or for the community, it will allow the planning department to complete a rigorous critical planning process, then use the results as the basis for considering the best options for our public lands at the Celery Fields.
|Courtesy of Chuck Behrmann|