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.

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