Monday, May 2, 2022

History of the Southwest Quad - Background Links

The links below go to Background on the Southwest Quad - the one James Gabbert wanted for his WTF (Waste Transfer Facility). 

The Board is now promoting a plan to move the Florida House to the SW Quad Parcel for use as a building industry showcase - in violation of the Easement the County granted with unanimous Board Approval in December 2019.

                                                        Thanks to Adrien Lucas for this selection.

Useful Links,
Supporting Material &
Some Helluva Good Press from the Past Week!

Observer, Eric Garwood | February 20, 2022

ABC Channel 7 by Rick Adams | November 6, 2019

Filmed by Daniel Perales, produced by Adrien Lucas

Herald Tribune by Anna Bryson | November 2, 2019

ABC Channel 7 by Taylor Torregano | Nov. 1, 2019

ABC Channel 7 by Taylor Torregano | Nov. 1, 2019

Herald Tribune by Carrie Seidman | Oct. 31, 2019

Citizen's for Sarasota County Blog by Tom Matrullo | Nov. 3, 2019

Sarasota News Leader by Rachel Brown Hackney |Oct. 24, 2019

Fresh Start for the Celery Fields, a real-time blog holding any and 
all things related to the Celery Fields and Sarasota County government. 
Great place to learn what we are up against. A useful site for 
appropriate cut and paste sentences for writing why you oppose 
the sale of the Quads.

a breakdown on the proposed county staff Celery Field Quad 
CAP analysis to Sarasota planner Mr. Kirk.

A video of Fresh Start's presentation to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners on Sept. 12, 2018 that apparently fell on deaf ears. 

Image from the Sarasota News Leader

The Manatee Sarasota Building Industry Association - a local 
developer lobbyist group - proposes for the SW Quad a showcase that 
would feature the construction industry. Originally proposed 
for the NW parcel which the county still retains, the group has now 
switched to the SW parcel.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Was the Conservation Easement a Bait & Switch?

Mike Moran and Al Maio – the two commissioners who voted for James Gabbert’s giant, outdoor debris pulverizing plant on the SW Quad parcel – are now pushing a building lobbyist's proposal that would put a builder's showcase there, despite the fact that the proposal violates the Conservation Easement approved by the Board in 2020.

M&M were joined by Cutsinger and Ziegler in the 4-1 vote to fast-track the BIA proposal.

Excerpts below are from the 4.29.22 Sarasota News Leader article.

With Detert objecting, County Commission authorizes staff to negotiate with Manatee-Sarasota Business Industry Association to take over Florida House lease and move building 

Making the motion, Commissioner Moran calls for ‘plenty of public input’ on proposal during future board meeting

Commissioner Michael Moran this week won the support of his other three colleagues to authorize county staff to start negotiating with the Manatee-Sarasota Business Industry Association over the future of the Florida House.

Formally, Moran specified county talks with the Business Industry Association (MSBIA) “and/or any nonprofit that’s affiliated with [it]” to take over the county’s lease of the 4454 S. Beneva Road site in Sarasota where the Florida House stands. That lease will end on June 30, 2027, county staff has noted.

Further, Moran called for allowing the MSBIA or the nonprofit to move the building before that lease expires.

The MSBIA has created a nonprofit organization called the Building Industry Institute....

The MSBIA proposal in a June 7, 2021 letter from its CEO, Jon Mast, to County Administrator Jonathan Lewis — plus comments from MSBIA board member Teresa Mast, who addressed the commissioners at an Open to the Public comment period during the commission’s Feb. 8 meeting — included the desire to move the Florida House to one of the Quads. Those four county-owned parcels are adjacent to the Celery Fields.

Although the latter area officially is a county stormwater management project, it also is an internationally known bird-watching destination.

In October 2020, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve a conservation easement over the Southwest, Southeast and Northeast Quads, in collaboration with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which is based in Osprey, and the Sarasota Audubon Society.

The MSBIA has shifted its focus to a Southwest Quad site. ...

Detert said she objected to Moran’s motion. “We haven’t had a lot of meetings about it,” she began. “We probably need to.” ....

She said she believed all of the commissioners have met with MSBIA representatives one-on-one. “You’re kind of writing a motion in favor of one corporation,” she told Moran. ....

When Chair Alan Maio called for the vote on Moran’s motion, Detert repeated her objection to it. The motion passed 4-1.

. . . leaders of the Florida House Institute — which has become Southface Sarasota — have adamantly expressed opposition to the MSBIA proposal.

... former Florida House director Matt Ross, who founded the company Eco$mart, in 1993, stressed to the commissioners during public comments on Feb. 23 that in his 29 years of working with the Florida House, he had “not seen the [MSBIA’s] presence at all.”

When the Florida House suffered through “lean times” in the early 2000s, Ross continued, “Where was the builders’ association? They weren’t there.”

MSBIA head Jon Mast

Notes below on key points -


Some key takeaways:

1. The Board chose to promote one proposal – from a lobby, the Manatee/Sarasota Building Industry Association BIA – over Commissioner Detert’s motion to hear from staff about several options for the Florida House.

2. The BIA Lobby wishes to take for its own use a parcel that was given to the people of Sarasota (via two Environmental Non-profits, Sarasota Audubon and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast) to protect a bird nesting preserve and to foster community with a civic use – a Sarasota history archive, for example.

3. The BIA Lobby wants to rezone the SW Quad to ILW – Industry, light manufacturing, warehouse – apparently not finding any incompatibility with the Conservation Easement.

4. The county’s own documents and Conservation Easement reflect the fact that the intent of the Conservation Easement was for civic or government use, and use by a private organization is expressly disallowed by its terms.

5. Those who have had long and intimate participation in the Florida House say the Lobby has lied in pretending to have helped the Florida House when it needed it, or taken any interest in it before now.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

A Vision for Re-Wilding the Quads

Audubon's Dubi presenting "Re-wilding"

The Fresh Start blog has been quiet for quite a while, but it seems the right place to post a happy update about the Quads from Sarasota Audubon and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast.

In a kind of "sneak preview" given on Tuesday, February 15 at the Audubon Nature Center, plans for three Quad parcels were unveiled.

The plans have yet to be agreed to by the County, but -- with hopes that all will go well -- they're pretty terrific.

This is just a brief update - we'll add more detail, especially after there's been a formal agreement with County planning staff and the Board.

For now: 

Jeanne Dubi and Christine Johnson made clear that the goal is about "more than birds" - it will be "a teaching and learning site," said Dubi. It will be about re-wilding, buffering, restoring clean water, introducing plants, trees and other features that will attract a greater variety of birds, give them resting places as they migrate between continents, and areas for local birds to forage and nest.

The greatest changes will come to the southeast parcel. They include woodland habitat through new forestation, a meadow and a "ravine," with a bird blind and weir. The northeast parcel will include grading the bottom of the retention pond so that birds can wade without falling into deep water. The water from the retention pond would feed an entirely new feature, a "ravine" on the southeast parcel - coming under Palmer Boulevard then surfacing on that parcel (photos below).

Beyond bringing back the natural potential, there's room on the southwest parcel for humans -- parking, recreation, open areas with picnic tables, bathrooms. Six acres of this parcel were reserved by the County for a government building at the western end, next to James Gabbert's Waste Transfer Facility.

There will also be internships for folks interested in learning about water, soil, carbon sequestration, working with government, and more, said Dubi.

She credited the community with rising up to protect the Celery Fields, adding "we're all in this together."

A meeting with the County is coming soon -- we'll be watching to see how that goes.

A lot of thinking from a lot of people has gone into this - let's hope the county has the wisdom to embrace it all, and help see it through. The re-wilded Quads will need funding, and eventually an endowment. 

The visuals will be open to the public beginning Saturday at the Nature Center.

The NE parcel

Proposed bird blind for the Southeast Parcel adjacent to the existing Celery Fields

The Southwest Parcel with parking, playground, picnic
tables, bathrooms, open areas for recreation

The meadow and path leading to the SW parcel's
bird blind on the canal

Thursday, June 3, 2021

On the Conservation Easement of 6.9.21 - an Open Letter to the Board

To: The Board of Sarasota County Commissioners
Re: The Quad Conservation Easement of 6.9.2021

On October 6, 2020, the Board unanimously granted a perpetual easement on three of the four Quad parcels to the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, with Sarasota Audubon taking on the task of managing these parcels within the scope of protecting, preserving and enhancing Sarasota County's Celery Fields area with the community's support.

Visitors to this area -- there are many -- will think well of our county and its leaders for having created a gateway to East County, with its wide vista opening onto this special place. How many other counties can lay claim to a water management facility that birthed a bird habitat, a superb recreation area, and its very own mountain?

"Mt. Celery"

Valuable lessons -- too many to list -- can be learned from this four-year exercise in civic planning. Perhaps the most humbling insight -- for me at least -- is that while the goal is to plan well, one also should plan to be surprised.

Those who remembered the area's original sawgrass marshes knew that the regional water facility would attract birds, but could anyone have predicted that 246 species of birds (at last count) would ​nest, feed, or visit here?

Roseate Spoonbill

And no one imagined how many uses people would find for the pile of unsaleable muck folks now call "Mt. Celery." 

Training to become a firefighter

The decision to grant a Conservation Easement for these parcels stands as a banner moment in Sarasota County stewardship. We've needed time to appreciate what the Celery Fields area could be; even more time might help us understand the wisest future uses for our community.

Citizen Suggestion for NW parcel:
 Bus Loop pavilion for schoolchildren

Your confidence in both the Conservation Foundation and Sarasota Audubon is well founded. The planning department's Critical Area Plan offers practical means to balance interests and uses, fostering compatibility under a unifying gateway vision. 

I invite you to apply three important lessons going forward:

  • Consider this area as a complex organic whole -- the Celery Fields has endowed the Palmer-Fruitville area east of I-75 with widespread recognition as a brilliant combination of public utility and natural beauty -- a "happy place."
  • Welcome unanticipated perspectives -- if agreement comes too readily, it might result from a lack of diverse and creative ideas.  
  • There's no rush - allow time for Nature and the community to teach us what needs and purposes these public spaces will best serve.

Challenged by your community to produce a plan worthy of this place, you stepped up. The result is a natural treasure that developers and tourist venues feature in their marketing. 

What happens from this point on can sustain the same high level if you remain transparently in touch with the community. We'll be paying attention, and we hope to be pleasantly surprised. - Tom Matrullo

 >>> Donate to Sarasota Audubon's Quad Fund <<<


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Final Hearing for the Quads Parcels June 9


Public Hearings Regarding Amendment to the
I-75/Fruitville Road Major Employment Center Critical Area Plan, and Rezone Petition
(Quads Parcels)
Date:       June 9, 2021
Time     9:00 a.m. or as soon thereafter as possible
Location: Sarasota County Administration Center, County   
               Commission Chamber, 1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota FL        

The Sarasota County Commission will hold public hearings on amendments to the I-75/Fruitville Road Major Employment Center (MEC) Critical Area Plan (CAP), and the rezoning of three of the County-owned "Quads" parcels. 
In October of 2019 County staff completed a CAP study that identified the proposed CAP amendments intended to preserve the open character of Quads parcels. In October of 2020, the County Commission granted a conservation easement over three of the Quads parcels. The proposed zoning change of the three Quads parcels to Government Use (GU) will allow uses consistent with the conservation easement. 

All interested parties are invited to appear, be heard, and submit relevant evidence. A complete draft of the proposed Ordinances are available during normal business hours in the Planning and Development Services Department at 1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, Florida. Supporting documents will be available the Thursday prior to the public hearing at, Meetings and Agendas (Meetings on Demand) to view or download. Written comments will be considered and may be sent to the Planning and Development Services Department prior to the public hearing at the above address or by e-mail to The public hearing may be continued from time to time as announced by the Board. For more information, telephone 941-861-5000.
For more information about providing public input, go to: 
Sarasota County prohibits discrimination in all services, programs or activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, sex, marital status, familial status, religion, or genetic information. Persons with disabilities who require assistance or alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.), or who wish to file a complaint, should contact Sarasota County ADA/Civil Rights Coordinator, 1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, Florida 34236, Phone: 941-861-5000; TTY 7-1-1 or 1-800-955-8771, E-mail:

Thank you for your time and interest in this effort!
We appreciate your feedback!
Planning and Development Services provides unincorporated Sarasota County with land use services in collaboration with businesses, residents and neighboring jurisdictions to build a sustainable, prosperous community that distinguishes Sarasota County.
Planning and Development Services | | 941-861-5000   

Friday, April 30, 2021

Concerning the Quads at the Celery Fields: Open Letter to the Planning Commission

Update: After this blog post was published, a further exchange of emails between myself and county planner Steve Kirk took place. The upshot was some clarification of areas of concern. This exchange along with two recommendations for considerataion by the Planning Commission were then sent to the public record files as testimony to be included in the May 6 hearing on the Quads Parcels CAP:

Testimony to the Planning Commission, May 6, 2021

The Quads 2021

The Sarasota County Planning Commission is set to consider the county's proposed Critical Area Plan (CAP) for the area that includes the Quad Parcels and Celery Fields at a May 6, 2021 hearing. 

The plan proposes rezoning the Quads to Government Use (GU) and delineates constraints and recommendations to preserve and protect bird habitat and create a open vista -- a green gateway to East County.

County Planner Steve Kirk put a lot of thought into this presentation, which seeks to honor the intent behind the county's grant of a permanent easement over three of the four parcels (outlined above) to the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast and to Sarasota Audubon, which has had s strong commitment to the Celery Fields, and which will manage the future redevelopment of these parcels. 

Here's my email to the Planning Commission:

As one of the founding members of the Fresh Start Initiative, a community group that spent 10 months gathering community input and recommendations for the Quads parcels, I invite the Planning Commission to weigh in on the CAP as it now stands. 

1. The Critical Area Plan seeks to realize the vision of a Gateway to East County, with an open viewshed, and new, Audubon-guided bird habitat. It stresses a unifying compatibility of architectural styles, setbacks, building height and more. However, while these constraints will certainly enhance the three parcels under easement, the Northwest Parcel has 4+ acres of developable land that will simply be rezoned GU. This acreage could be developed by the County or sold to a developer, with options for light industry, commercial, or residential uses.

Wide range of options for the NW Parcel

It would make perfect sense for the Planning Commission to strongly recommend that the NW parcel's 4+ developable acres have binding language stating that any proposed use must be found compatible with the larger vision for the Quads and Celery Fields Area.

A four-acre warehouse serviced by giant 18-wheelers on the Northwest parcel would hardly be consistent with the purpose of the perpetual easement, or for that matter with the roads and residential neighborhoods on and near Palmer Blvd.

The Fresh Start group did present a few community suggestions for the Northwest parcel. One that would both be consistent with the easement vision and offer practical help to motorists would be a bus loop enabling schoolchildren to get on and off buses without stopping traffic both ways on Palmer. 


The loop could have a pavilion with tables where children could sit out of the rain or strong sun, and perhaps eat a snack. Snacks could be provided by a rotating series of food trucks on an area set aside for this purpose.

Not only would this use be an asset for our children and help the flow of traffic, but it would also fit with the fact that, as public land, the Northwest parcel already holds a brand new fire station in suitable Old Florida style.

2. Another noteworthy element of the permanent easement reserves the County's right to construct a building on six acres of the Southwest parcel. While the Board has spoken of using the land for a history museum, nothing in the CAP specifies this use, leaving open the possibility of some other Government Use on this parcel. 

GU, however, allows a great many things -- firing ranges, bus terminals and asphalt manufacturing among them. It would be a valuable enhancement to the Planning Commission review to recommend binding the use of the Southwest parcel to consistency and compatibility with the "Prime Directive" of the permanent easement: protection of bird habitat in the Celery Fields.

Finally, it would help to remind our community that Sarasota Audubon has taken on the task of shaping the parcels under easement. It will be raising funds for the purpose and we all should be both grateful and mindful that the commitment of Audubon deserves the support of all those who love the Celery Fields.

Very truly yours, 

Tom Matrullo


Note: Anyone seeking to provide comment or other input to the Planning Commission needs to register in advance at this link.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Steve Suau selected to guide management of Quads at Celery Fields

Steve Suau had served on the Stormwater Advisory Committee and then as Sarasota County Stormwater Director when the plan to manage floodwaters endangering homes on Phillippi Creek took form. 

Along with former Commissioner Jon Thaxton and a few others, Suau laid the groundwork for what has become a phenomenal asset: The Celery Fields Water Management Area, now home to the Audubon Nature Center, protects homes from high water, cleanses Phillippi Creek of nutrients, provides a much-loved recreation area, and has created wetlands and uplands offering habitat for hundreds of nesting and migrating bird species. (Story below from Sarasota Magazine.)

The Celery Fields (photo: Tom Matrullo)

The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast and Sarasota Audubon Society have announced the selection of the Quad Parcels Project owners’ representative: Steve Suau of Progressive Water Resources. As owners’ representative, Suau will assist both organizations in managing the project from beginning to end, which will improve wildlife habitat, buffer the Celery Fields from industrial use and I-75 to the west, and provide low-impact public access. The 33 acres will buffer the western edge of the environmentally sensitive Celery Fields, a nationally recognized birding hotspot that is a vital part of Sarasota County’s water quality and flood protection system for the Phillippi Creek watershed.

In October 2020, the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners approved a unique public-private partnership, which gifted a conservation easement on the northeast, southeast and southwest quads parcels to Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast—ensuring protection forever—and contracted with Sarasota Audubon Society to improve habitat and manage the properties. The draft design is expected to be announced in the next few months. The two nonprofits are fundraising for the project and anticipate a public campaign kickoff later this year. For more information, click here.

The "Quads":

The Quads Parcels - County Photo 

Monday, March 15, 2021

UPDATE on Quads workshop Monday March 22, 6 pm on Zoom

UPDATE: Here are the documents pertaining to the Quads Workshop of March 22, 2021:

Related: The Kimley-Horn planning firm held a Neighborhood Workshop on 3.30.21. On behalf of Benderson Development, they propose to revise the allocated retail space of the Fruitville Initiative. Benderson owns the 40-acre parcel that borders the northern edge of the Celery Fields.

More including documents at this link.  


There's an online public "Neighborhood Workshop" for anyone interested in the planning for the Quads Parcels and surrounding area this Monday, March 22, at 6 pm.

Kids at the Celery Fields
The Zoom meeting conducted by Sarasota Planning will afford people an opportunity to hear the county's thinking about the Quads as a "Gateway" with an open, expansive "viewshed." 

Three of the four parcels, which were placed under a perpetual easement in 2019, are proposed to be designated "GU" -- Government Use. The easement was granted on parcels 1, 2, and 4 to the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast with the supervision of the Sarasota Audubon Society.

The Quads parcels

One parcel -- #3 to the Northwest -- is proposed to be rezoned for a variety of possibly private uses, including light industry, on its "developable" four acres. This was done at the direction of Commissioner Al Maio. The northwest parcel already has a Fire Station.

Proposed rezoning designations

Under terms of the Conservation Easement worked out with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast and Sarasota Audubon, the easternmost 6 acres of parcel #2 (southwest parcel) can be used for a civic structure. A history museum has been mentioned as one possibility for that section. The remainder of parcels 1, 2, and 4 will be under Audubon supervision as natural habitat consistent with the existing Celery Fields birding areas.

The workshop will be Zoom Meeting:

Monday, March 22, 2021 at 6 PM EDT – 7 PM EDT

  Duration: 1 hr

  Open to the Public