Monday, February 8, 2016

Sarasota County Commissioners violated County Comp Plan, it seems

The former head of Sarasota County Natural Resources Dept. says the Board of County Commissioners violated the Comp Plan when it gave Whole Foods Market permission to turn a living wetland into a parking lot.

Letter to the Editor, Herald Tribune

Wetland worth saving
A recent letter writer asserted that Tom Lyons added spin to his column on Whole Foods’ planned destruction of wetlands. Perhaps as author of many of Sarasota County’s environmental regulations, I can show that facts do not constitute spin.
While it is true that Sarasota County changed some of the environmental provisions in its Comprehensive Plan over the last 17 years, it did not change them to the extent that allows a developer to take out a functioning wetland just because it’s in the way.
Here’s the revised language (Environment Chapter, Management Guidelines): “In cases where a wetland is no longer capable of performing defined environmental functions and providing defined environmental values, or in cases where no other reasonable alternative exists other than disrupting a wetland, as determined by the County, some alterations may be allowed.”
The main difference between the 1999 rule and the current one is that the former rule required swamps to be preserved while the current one lumps in swamps (the habitat on the Whole Foods site) with all wetlands and allows them to be disrupted only if they meet the standards in the above-cited provision.
This wetland remains in good ecological condition — even Whole Foods’ environmental consultant agreed with that — and still provides environmental values and functions as defined in the Comprehensive Plan.
County ecologists are responsible for determining the quality of a wetland. County staff opined correctly that removing this wetland would be contrary to Comprehensive Plan provisions, but the board ignored that recommendation.
Gary S. Comp, former director
Sarasota County Natural
Resources Department

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