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

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