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This provides a long overdue opportunity to envision what is possible, rather than trying to adapt it to outdated planning decisions.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

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

Herald Tribune Oct. 10, 2018: Sarasota County still contemplating uses for land near Celery Fields

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.

Herald Tribune
Sarasota County extends deadline for Celery Fields development plan April 25, 2018

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 . . .

Monday, October 8, 2018

Letter to the Sarasota Board regarding proposed industrialization near Celery Fields

Celery Fields courtesy of Emanuel Guzman

To: The Board of Sarasota County Commissioners
Re: Fresh Start statement in response to Lambert assessment industrializing parcel #3
Date: October 8, 2018

On Wednesday morning, Oct. 10, 2018, you will discuss an outside consultant’s recommendation to rezone a public parcel at Apex Rd. and Palmer Blvd. to industrial use.

As many are aware, Fresh Start has engaged in a nine-month dialog with the Board and staff regarding the fate of public lands in the Celery Fields Area. Yet despite this effort at mutual understanding, key questions remain unanswered.

Some of these questions specifically concern the recently completed assessment by your consultant, Lambert Advisory LLC -- an assessment based on spreadsheet comparables to the exclusion of real world considerations, such as road conditions or community values.

Other questions concern larger issues of planning and policy which lie at the root of land stewardship at this critical moment in the development of Northeast Sarasota County.

Take Surplus Land Policy for example: Before all else, why sell public land? Once sold, it’s gone forever. Neither the Lambert assessment nor the staff briefing states any reason why it benefits the community to sell this land.

Piecemeal planning: You have plucked one parcel (#3) from a complex interconnected area in transition and are seeking to rezone it for industry -- a use appropriate to 1983 -- without a glance at the larger relevant context. Fresh Start spent 9 months attempting to paint this larger picture from the residents' perspective. As stewards of our public lands, what proactive vision is guiding you now and for the coming explosion of development in East Sarasota?

MEC and Industry: Lambert Advisory's blunt determination that "industry" -- with no qualification as to what sort of industry -- would bring the highest price for parcel #3 is at odds with market activity at the Fruitville Initiative. That nearby area has more than 200 acres, all of which, like parcel #3, are designated MEC, but there appears to be no demand for industry. Various plans submitted to the County for the Fruitville Initiative are all multi-family residential. Given that these property owners presumably are marketing their properties to the highest and best use, there seems to be a significant disconnect between the reality created by the Lambert report and what's actually occurring on the ground. The Lambert finding warrants rigorous review and reconciliation to assure that the return on the public’s investment is not being short-changed.

Scoping task #4: Fresh Start asked to communicate with Lambert while the Consultant was doing its research. County staff opposed any communication:
Out of an abundance of caution to the process, I would not be comfortable with a private group directly communicating with a consultant on an item that will culminate in a quasi-hearing on a Board directive that was decidedly different from your own. (Email from county planner to Fresh Start dated 7.2.18).
How did this sidelining of the community advance the consultant’s task, which was to base findings on "a general understanding of the community and its residents"? (Scope #4).

Actual Road Conditions: Road conditions were the largest factor in last year's hearings concerning proposed industrial uses on parcel 2. To an inquiry from Fresh Start as to what information the County provided to Lambert regarding roads and traffic, the Lambert researcher replied:
At the time of the study, we were not aware of any documented issues related to development constraints, including roadway capacity.
  • Why was essential data about the fragile road situation on Palmer Blvd. and Apex Rd not provided to the consultant? 
  • Developer James Gabbert estimates that his Waste Transfer Station planned for six acres along Porter Rd. and Palmer Boulevard will generate at least 100 trucks a day, entering and leaving his new facility at Palmer and Bell Rd. 
  • The Board expressed concern about road conditions on Sept. 12 when Fresh Start discussed light recreational and civic uses on these parcels. Where’s that concern now?
Foregrounding Industry: Anyone driving along Palmer Blvd. and Apex Rd. would not know there are small industrial and office parks nearby -- they are hidden by landscaping, by Ackerman Park, and by office buildings. Rezoning parcel #3 for industry redefines the character of the area -- from open space rural to industrial -- the very thing residents area have strongly opposed since January 2017.

Domino Effect: If parcel #3 goes to industry, parcel #2 will be surrounded by industrial uses on three sides. Mr. Gabbert's waste transfer station is already in the works for the six acres along the west side of parcel #2; Robert Waechter owns warehouses screened by trees immediately south of it. How long will it take before someone proposes that it “makes sense” to rezone parcel #2 for industry?

Irreparable damage

For these good reasons and more, Fresh Start opposes Sarasota County's rezoning and sale of any of our public lands at Apex and Palmer to private industrial developers. Approving industry here will compromise everything that planning is supposed to be about: Optimizing road safety, environment, community resources, aesthetics and economic value.

Sarasota has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the rare counties that's met developers seeking uncontrolled growth with intelligent restraint, a sense of design, and an awareness of tradition.

As our nine-month effort has made clear, many commonsense, beneficial alternatives exist for these public parcels. We urge you to respect this place of birds, fresh air and open space -- respect this unique place and the people from near and far who love it.

While the Celery Fields area itself lacks sufficient parking and complementary amenities such as a place for a bite to eat, where are the County’s plans for those real needs? Instead you are spending tax dollars to rezone a public parcel without a buyer in sight, or any industrial proposal on the table.

On Sept. 12 Fresh Start respectfully asked that you adopt a basic resolution:
  • To dedicate the Celery Fields Quads to beneficial public uses in perpetuity;
  • To actively seek and formally approve uses for these lands only after completing careful study of trending markets and opportunities; and
  • To invest in a plan that realizes the community’s vision.
We remain steadfast in supporting this course of action.

If you go forward with this rezoning, Sarasota will be known as the place where, over the unequivocal opposition of its citizens, the Board compromised the safety, the environmental health, and the future prospects of a pristine 360-acre birding sanctuary, recreation, tourism and residential area.


Glenna Blomquist, Carlos Correa, Tom Matrullo, Gary Walsh

Executive Council for the Fresh Start Initiative

From November 2017 to September 2018, Fresh Start invested well over 1,000 volunteer hours gathering ideas, community support, and expert perspectives on the Celery Fields Area. Its July report is here. A "big picture" presentation is incorporated in this report, which was presented to the Board on Sept. 12. 2018 in video format. More about the Lambert Advisory report here and here.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Why sell our public land?

Parcel #3: The Northwest Quad at Apex Rd. and Palmer Blvd.

On Oct. 10, the Board will consider its consultant's recommendation to rezone parcel #3 for industrial use and sale, although there is no buyer at the present time. Below are key documents and a comment from Fresh Start.

  • Note: the Lambert item is first after proclamations, so approximate time is 9:30-10 a.m. To speak, plan to arrive by 9:15 and fill out a speaker's card for Open to the Public, which allows 3 minutes per speaker.

In its briefing, the planning staff goes into detail about the complexities of rezoning a parcel for industry in this location, because a critical area plan (CAP) is in effect. The CAP requires a binding site plan. But here, there is no end user -- the county is seeking the rezoning.

This leads to a complication noted by staff:
Rezoning the property without an end user or developer would require adopting a generalized binding plan that may not suit possible end users or developers. The binding development concept plan is not one of the characteristics of the PCD zoning district that can be modified. More specifically, the development concept plan’s binding nature cannot be waived as part of the rezone. 
Having examined the Lambert Advisory assessment, Fresh Start has pointed out that it is based upon minimal actual data about our roads, traffic, community, or environment. It was designed to compare spreadsheet valuations of land uses without regard to the specific locality of parcel #3, to come up with a hypothetical sales price. More on this here.

Fresh Start presented a host of possibilities for the Quad parcels. However, Parcel #3 was removed from consideration because Mr. Maio desired to rezone and sell it. Mr. Maio did not cite any public support for his proposal to sell.


Why is the county even considering this rezone of public land? Last November when Commissioner Al Maio instigated this idea, he justified it with the claim of budget shortfalls. But since November, the county's understanding of its actual fiscal condition has changed. Maio himself now says the county is in terrific financial shape (3 1/2 min. audio), and that "there is no shortfall" (17 sec. audio). 

Former County Commissioner Jon Thaxton recently said at a public meeting that Florida counties have always set "a very high bar" before considering the sale of public lands. 

Given that the county has no budget crisis, what reason has the Board cited for selling our public land near the Celery Fields? Why this rush to rezone parcel #3 for sale to an unknown private industrial developer at some point in the future? What is compelling us to cannibalize and cash in our public lands to meet any financial need before every other alternative? Could Mr. Maio be fearful that voters or backers would be unhappy if the Board looked at an increase in millage or impact fees to provide a sustainable revenue stream, rather than a one-time irrevocable cash for land deal?

When did selling our public land become the go-to means of dealing with short-term cash flow?

Fresh Start recommends the Board adopt a clear, straightforward policy: 
Before designating public land as surplus, the County shall consider all possible options and uses it might have -- now or in the future. When proposing to rezone and sell our public land, this policy would require the County to include a clear statement of reasons for doing so. 

Returning to parcel #3: 

If there is
  • no end user, 
  • no financial pressure to sell, 
  • no good reason to sell, 
  • no support from the community to sell, and there are
  • positive alternative uses proposed by the community,
Why sell?

Once sold, public land is gone forever. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

County sets discussion of Industry near Celery Fields for Oct. 10

Email Oct. 4 from Fresh Start:​

To all who care about the Celery Fields Area:

While Fresh Start was working to find, vet, and present community ideas for the public lands at Apex and Palmer, the Board hired a Miami consultant, Lambert Advisory LLC, to assess Quad parcel #3 for rezoning and sale.

In August, Lambert turned in an assessment that the county could obtain the highest price if parcel #3 is rezoned for Industrial Use. The parcel could hold an 80,000 s.f. warehouse or other such industrial operation, Lambert stated.

Without recommending for or against approval, County staff has scheduled the Board to discuss rezoning the parcel to Industrial on Oct. 10.

If the Board wishes, it will vote to forward the proposed Industrial rezoning to proceed through the public process: Neighborhood Workshop, Planning Commission, Final Board Hearing. 

Three questions stand out:

1. If the fragile roads near the Celery Fields need to be addressed before allowing a simple park on them -- as Commissioner Caragiulo stated to Fresh Start on Sept. 12 -- what would justify the Board's initiating an industrial rezoning that will generate additional large truck traffic?

2. Lambert Advisory's report compared industrial uses with residential, office, and commercial for parcel #3, and states unequivocally that an industrial zoning would bring the highest sale price ("highest and best use" actually means "best price"). Others question this conclusion, however. 

In reviewing various plans submitted to the County within the nearby 200-acre MEC area of the Fruitville Initiative, it appears that proposed land uses are all multi-family residential. Further, it is our understanding that while office and retail uses are also being considered, there appears to be little interest in industry. Given that these property owners presumably are marketing their properties to the highest and best use, there seems to be a significant disconnect between the reality created by the Lambert report and what's actually occurring on the ground. Therefore, the Lambert finding warrants rigorous review and reconciliation to assure that the return on the public’s investment is not being short-changed.

3. Fresh Start repeatedly asked to speak with Lambert, and was denied. Lambert was tasked with gaining a knowledge of the Community (see scoping document below); how was that mission helped by blocking communication with the community?

More industry

​In addition, ​James Gabbert is working out final details of his planned Waste Transfer Station on 6 acres along Porter Rd. and Palmer Boulevard west of parcel #2. Gabbert has said the facility will generate 100 trucks a day, entering and exiting on Palmer Blvd. at Bell Rd.​ If he meets a few technical hurdles, he can build without further public review, or even a new traffic study.​

Action Item:

This coming Wednesday, Oct. 10, the Board will consider the Lambert recommendation to rezone parcel #3 for up to 80,000 s.f. of industrial use (time to be announced). If you are able to attend, please put it on your calendar. No need to speak -- just being there will mean a lot. 

Fresh Start is still seeking more information and will update soon.

Thank you,

The Fresh Start Executive Council

Restaurant Depot, Tampa

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Fresh Start: September 2018 Update

To our Fresh Start HOA's, delegates, advisers and far-flung Celery Fieldsians:

Fresh Start offered a broad view of the context of development and potential in and around the area of the Celery Fields in its Sept. 12th appearance before the Board. We showed visuals of the many thousands of acres of new housing the board has already approved, and asked why elected officials couldn't reserve 30 acres of public land near our birding and recreation area for public uses. (Links to all presentations and correspondence are below).

We've held off on this update to gain a better understanding of two parallel developments, which we'll mention in a minute. But it's important to note that Fresh Start believed our portion of the task was complete when we submitted our update on July 11. We did what we said we'd do: offered community-approved proposals for Quad parcels 1 and 2. Our four specific proposals in April had drawn praise from the Board, but no concrete direction. We were just asked to "refine" them. We surveyed our neighborhoods about sports resources, and the YMCA which did some further market research (which would pertain to all four proposals), and that's what we gave to the Board in July.

We expected a response -- some questions, suggestions, perhaps a directive to county staff to offer an analysis or pursue discussions via the EDC or tourism officials -- but we heard nothing. On August 14, more than a month after our July 11 update, we wrote to Long Range Planner Jane Grogg, our County liaison, asking when or whether such feedback would be forthcoming. 

We were simply told to show up on Sept. 12 -- to present. Frankly, we were more than a little baffled. As we had received zero response to our latest update, what exactly were we expected to talk about?

Fresh Start had a choice: We could go and simply stand there, waiting for the Board's thoughts and direction. Instead we chose to offer a broader analysis that would support Board action on one item: Removing the public parcels from the surplus lands list, and working together on future uses:

The Board took no vote. Actually, it didn't discuss the proposed resolution, or any of our community proposals. The only commissioner who addressed practicalities, Paul Caragiulo, said the Board needed to first deal with serious road issues. What we didn't have an opportunity to say is that this was exactly the sort of work the county staff could have been doing all along to help the Board come to a determination. Mr Caragiulo was exactly right, but the County had yet to make a beginning. Commissioners Hines, Moran and Maio said nothing to Fresh Start after our presentation. Commissioner Detert thanked us, characterizing our September report as beautiful yet critical. (Fresh Start believes it's the situation at the Celery Fields that is critical.)

Parallel proposals

Here's where the plot thickens. While Fresh Start was working for nine months -- more than a thousand volunteer hours -- to find, vet, vote, and present our community's ideas, the county had hired a Miami consultant, Lambert Advisory LLC, to assess and rezone Quad parcel #3 for sale, at Commissioner Maio's instigation.

Emails obtained through a public records request show that county staff was working assiduously with Lambert. In August, the firm's assessment was that the county could obtain the highest price for parcel #3 if it rezoned it to industry. The parcel could hold an 80,000 s.f. warehouse or other such industrial operation, Lambert stated.

County staff apparently accepted this assessment and has scheduled the Board to discuss rezoning parcel #3 to Industrial (ILW) on Oct. 10. If the Board wishes, the proposed rezoning will then begin the public process - Neighborhood Workshop, Planning Commission, Public Board Hearing.

Three observations:

1. If the fragile roads need addressing before allowing a simple park on them, as Mr. Caragiulo stated, how is it that staff would approve and forward a rezone certain to generate more large truck traffic?

2. Lambert Advisory's report compared industrial uses with residential, office, and commercial for parcel #3, and states unequivocally that an industrial zoning would bring the highest sale price ("highest and best use" actually means "best price"). Others question this conclusion, however. 
            One source familiar with the nearby Fruitville Initiative, which has over 200 acres all with the same "MEC" (major employment center) designation as the Quads, says none of the five major Fruitville Initiative landowners is finding interest from industrial developers. Companies seeking to build in that area are proposing a mix of multi-family, condos, homes, offices, and commercial. These parcels are all closer to the highway than parcel #3. If industrial were the best way to realize monetary advantage, why wouldn't someone be rushing to put it there?

3. Fresh Start of course knew that the County had commissioned Lambert's study. We repeatedly asked to speak with Lambert, and were denied by County staff. Which provokes another question: Lambert was tasked with gaining a knowledge of the Community (see scoping document below); how was the mission helped by blocking communication with the community?

More industry

Finally, we must note that James Gabbert has resubmitted his plan to build a waste transfer station on 6 acres he owns that run along Porter Rd. west of parcel #2, with a strip along the southern edge. We only learned about this earlier this week.

No new traffic study will be required for Mr Gabbert's Special Exception, according to County Transportation staff. 

To sum up:

While Fresh Start presented, presented, and presented, were we heard? Did any engagement occur? We have yet to hear consideration of what our communities have offered. We are asking when that consideration will take place.

At the same time, an initiative to industrialize parcel#3 is moving ahead, and Mr. Gabbert is moving ahead with plans to put his waste transfer station adjacent to parcel #2, right next to the highway. Will our Communities' concerns, voiced in three presentations, be considered as these industrial efforts go forward? Will parcel #2 go industrial next? And what of parcel #1?

Please stay tuned, and thank you for your ongoing support. 

The Fresh Start Executive Council

Glenna Blomquist, Carlos Correa, Tom Matrullo, Gary Walsh