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.

1 comment:

  1. Like HEALTH CARE being for humankind, the
    BOARDS responsibility is for the community of longevity of the residents. This area takes on an even more important value as RED TIDE and weather dynamics are moving people more inland for what the GULF'S EDGE used to provide.