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 www.scgov.net, 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 planner@scgov.net. 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: www.scgov.net/publicinput. 
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: adacoordinator@scgov.net

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 | planner@scgov.net | 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



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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

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Future for the Quads: Agreements come to the Board Oct. 6

  


This Tuesday, Oct. 6, a plan for the Quads parcels at the Celery Fields comes before the Board for approval. It's a plan that contains two Agreements: one places perpetual easements on three of the four parcels; the second provides for the design of what the three parcels will becomes, with Audubon agreeing to play a major role.

In a nutshell, the County grants a perpetual easement for three of the four parcels:


The two agreements -- worked out in private with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast and Sarasota Audubon -- set a future course for these parcels, marked as #1 (SE), #2 (SW) and the NW parcel with retention pond. Parcel #3 (NW) has a new fire station and about 6 acres reserved by the County for future development (at Commissioner Maio's recommendation).

Below are links to the Memorandum and two Agreements which the Board is set to vote on:

   1. County Memo explaining the background and purpose of the agreements.

   2. Conservation Easement Agreement with Conservation Foundation

   3. Management Agreement with Sarasota Audubon

Editor's note:

The Conservation Agreement includes two "development envelopes." One allows the construction of a building of up to 40,000 s.f. on the western six acres of the SW parcel #2. Uses for the facility are limited to government, civic, recreational, education and conservation. Earlier discussions with the community included possibilities such as a history museum, visitor and nature center, or cafe.

The second envelope allows for the construction of "limited public amenities" -- restrooms, a pavilion, parking -- on a quarter acre of the eastern portion of the same parcel #2. 

The Agreements are listed as Item 18 on the Board's Consent Agenda for Tuesday, Oct. 6

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

A petition for the Celery Fields community


At this writing, my son and I are fortunate to be spending a few days in the hills of Western North Carolina. It's a welcome break. But as I took this photo an hour ago from a serene hilltop overlooking the Smokies, I thought of the days I've experienced a sense of solace and tranquility -- looking East in the mornings or West in the evenings -- from our Celery Fields sanctuary and the vantage of its marvelous hill.

It was a community effort that saved this place. Without you, James Gabbert's 16-acre waste facility would be pulverizing construction debris every day next to our nesting wetlands, to the thunder of large trucks pounding Palmer Blvd. 

Personally I can't in good faith ignore the fact that Mike Moran, now seeking reelection in District 1, voted to approve Gabbert's project. It was the overwhelming work of all of you that saved this place. Now, backed by developer money and anonymous PAC funding, Mr. Moran wants our vote to exercise power for four more years.

Fortunately he faces opposition from a Republican who cares about the environment -- Mike Hutchinson. And Mark Pienkos, a Democrat, is ready to face the winner of the August 18 Primary on Nov. 3.

It's perhaps not surprising that Mr. Moran has declined to appear in person to share his views -- the virus is a reasonable excuse. But he has also refused invitations to appear online and face his opponents; he has refused to talk with a reporter doing an article about the District 1 race, and he has bombarded us with photos of himself holding a gun -- as if this somehow assured us that he'll do right by our neighborhoods, our environment, and our quality of life.

What's even more surprising than this candidate's refusal to discuss his record with both constituents and the Press is that the Press - at least so far - is giving him a free pass. Instead of calling him out and noting that he's avoiding the most basic responsibilities of a candidate for public office, our mainstream Media see Mr. Moran's desire to duck public scrutiny of his record and are looking the other way.

Because that's the case, I ask that you join me in signing a Petition to demand that our Media engage our candidates -- all of them. No one deserves special treatment, especially a candidate who's proven he can listen to an entire community's pleas for the Celery Fields and ignore every one of us for the sake of one rich man's dump.

Here's a link to the petition:


Your signature will challenge our local Media to challenge Mike Moran and all our candidates to face the people's issues and questions -- openly, honestly, and without gun in hand.

Peace -- and thanks,

Tom Matrullo

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Quads update and a blueprint for water quality


Via a conference call on Thursday, Christine Johnson updated progress on the Quad parcels and other projects.

Quads: The CF has met three times with County staff and there is confidence they will have permanent easements in place by the beginning of summer on the three parcels (1,2,4) which the County has agreed to give in perpetuity.

  • Parcels 1 and 4 - the Eastern quad parcels - are to be left natural for the most part. Johnson did say there could be some work to bring the canal that runs between the SE parcel and the Celery Fields to a better level of development. I.e., it has paths where people walk, run, bicycle - these might be improved.
  • Parcel 2 (SW) could have some development component that would allow for parking. One of the major issues with the entire area is how little parking and other welcoming facilities are there for visitors.
Once these easements are in place, the property will be left to the CF and Audubon to develop and maintain. It is anticipated there will be no county funding. Here's where the community is likely to be invited to step up and help out.

The Foundation is also working toward solutions for other properties, including the giant Orange Hammock near North Port. The latest on this 5,500-acre site is that the CF has until June 1 to come up with $1.5 million for it. Johnson said this is a key project in that it not only means fewer homes, but also protects drinking water, serves as animal habitat, protects against floods, and still offers recreative and eco-tourism uses. Amazingly, Johnson says the CF is already 41% on its way to the $1.5 million needed.
More here.

Updates on other projects, including Bobby Jones, the Felts preserve, and more - can be found via links here.

a blueprint for
water quality improvement
to stop feeding
harmful algae blooms

As many know, Jon Thaxton and Steve Suau were two of the key people behind the creation of the Celery Fields Water Management facility. 

They're still concerned with water, and will be giving several talks on the results of a year's research on nutrients in our soil, and how they affect our bays and waterways. It's a wake-up call for us all. 

Jon and Steve will be at the Robert L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice this Tuesday (March 10) shortly after 1:30 pm presenting to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners.

Also on Tuesday, they'll do a broader version of their work at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice at 7 pm. It's at 1971 Pinebrook Rd, Venice, Florida 34292.

And they'll be presenting at CONA Sarasota on Friday March 20, at 7, at the Waldemere Fire Station.

Some slides from the "Playbook" are here. For the interpretive commentary, try to get to one of these presentations -- we all affect water quality, and in turn it affects us all.



Tuesday, January 21, 2020

First update on the public/private plan for the Quads



CONA Sarasota's last meeting (1.10.20) offered the occasion for a brief update on the Quads parcels. According to information shared by the Conservation Foundation, so far the Foundation has held one meeting with Sarasota Audubon and Sarasota County.

They discussed the process for working together, wish lists for desired outcomes, and success criteria. Nothing decided, just procedural. The project design will take many months as there are many county departments and two not-for-profits involved. A second meeting had not yet been scheduled.

This was shared by Kafi Benz at last evening's CONA meeting.

In addition at CONA, those attending heard a good deal of information on the Fish Farm proposed offshore from Justin Bloom and Julie Miller, and about efforts to speed the transition to renewable energy from Sean Sellers of the Suncoast Climate Justice Coalition: