*** UPDATE ***
The Board of Sarasota County Commissioners has set a special day to consider a proposal to put a large, unenclosed waste processing facility on public lands in the immediate vicinity of a serene preserve and eco-tourist resort:
Wednesday August 23, 2017
9 am - ?
Due to the large and intense resistance to this proposal, the Board has set aside the entire day of August 23 for this hearing. Below is a detailed timeline.
The surrounding area contains neighborhoods, schools, retail, and a planned new urban gateway to Sarasota County.
Below is a timeline of the planning and legal maneuvers leading up to this. All elements of the proposal for the waste processing facility (less than 3 miles from a very similar facility) were unanimously denied by the Sarasota Planning Commission on June 1. That vote was advisory. Mr. James Gabbert and his agent, Bo Medred, will take their plan to the County Commission for a final decision in August.
This is a photo of one of Sarasota County's most extraordinary natural preserves, the Celery Fields:
View from the Observation Mound of the Celery Fields, Sarasota, FL
This is a photo of a waste processing facility much like the one Sarasota County is considering permitting to be built next to the Celery Fields:
|Aerial: WCA Waste Processing - built, later sold, by James Gabbert|
Again? Celery Fields:
|Celery Fields stormwater system, recreation area and bird sanctuary|
|WCA facility at 8001 Fruitville Rd.|
How is it that Sarasota County would even consider allowing an unenclosed 15-acre industrial waste processing plant right next to a beloved park-preserve, international bird sanctuary, and Audubon Nature center?
Meet Bo Medred and James Gabbert.
|Bo Medred, left, James Gabbert|
Bo Medred is a former Sarasota County planner who now operates as an independent agent. His job often calls for him to persuade the County to modify land use plans for developers. He must be good at it, because he seems to always be representing various developer interests before the County.
We -- Sarasota County taxpayers -- own 10.6 acres at Apex and E. Palmer, which the County declared to be surplus land in 1997, but didn't market for 18 years.
In 2016, Mr. Gabbert hired Bo Medred to persuade the County both to sell him our public land and to allow a special exception for heavy industry on the acreage, which currently is not zoned for industry. These public lands are currently zoned OUR - Open Use Rural -- good for protecting native habitats.
How did we get here?
More about the land use question below. First, a bit of the curious backstory to this decision the County will soon face. It's full of twists and turns, including prior efforts by Mr. Gabbert and Bo Medred to build a waste transfer station and a waste processing plant on Cattlemen Rd.
In 2014, Bo Medred was hired by James Gabbert to change a land use designation on Cattlemen Rd. The plan: put a waste transfer station and Recycling Facility on a 7-acre site north of East Palmer Blvd. on Cattlemen Rd. The industrial application, which required a special exception, met with strong opposition from area businesses that foresaw a dust storm of pulverized concrete and yard waste being blown onto their property.
- Jan. 2015 - BCC Action: The application is denied by the Board of County Commissioners (BCC).
Mr. Gabbert, who had purchased the Cattlemen site in June 2013 for $625,000, sold it in January 2015 for $1.8 million. Those who opposed him reportedly were told that he would look at sites east of I-75 to realize his plan of a waste transfer/processing facility.
It is worth noting that Mr. Gabbert was no newcomer to planning, building, and operating waste processing facilities. Prior to 2005, when he sold them for $35 million, he had for years operated at least four facilities around the county, including one at 8001 Fruitville Rd. that WCA currently operates.
|WCA waste processing facility at|
8001 Fruitville Rd. built by James Gabbert
Mr. Gabbert next decided upon a site just East of I-75 on Palmer Blvd. It was 4.5 acres in private hands on Porter Rd. and E. Palmer Blvd., next to a 10.6-acre parcel owned by the County.
July 24, 2015 - Bo Medred held a neighborhood workshop at Mr. Gabbert's offices to describe Mr. Gabbert's plan to build and operate a Waste Transfer Station on a 4.5-acre site he proposed to buy at Porter Rd. and East Palmer Blvd. The petitioners stated that the aim was to operate a waste transfer station, not a waste processing plant.
Note: A Waste Transfer Station is a site where demolition and yard waste is brought in via small trucks, sorted in piles, then put on large trucks to be taken either to a waste processing facility or to a landfill. No grinding or crushing of concrete or other construction materials takes place. Guide to Planning and Siting a Waste Transfer Station.
All day, trucks carry demolition and yard waste in and out of Waste Transfer stations. For that reason Medred and Gabbert's plan was opposed by owners of nearby businesses who indicated concern that the activity would create traffic blockages at the tight intersection of Porter and East Palmer, right next to the I-75 underpass. They also mentioned such an operation could both be unsightly and damage property values.
- Aug. 20, 2015 - Bo Medred and James Gabbert came before the Sarasota County Planning Commission seeking a Special Exception to allow a waste transfer facility on a 4.5-acre site at Porter and East Palmer. (The site had been rezoned ILW in 1992.) At the hearing, owners of nearby businesses raised traffic issues as well as the fact that it would be visible from the highway. Bob Waechter, Medred and Gabbert claimed the facility would not add to traffic.
- Board Action: The Planning Commission APPROVED the petition. (VIDEO)
Bo Medred then took the petition to the BCC for final approval.
- Oct. 14, 2015 - BCC hearing on petition for waste transfer on 4-acres.
- Opponents said the facility would block traffic (big trucks on Porter and Apex) and negatively affect real estate value in the area.
- Neighbors indicated they would oppose any waste processing or "recycling" -- (perhaps they knew Mr. Gabbert had applied for to operate a waste processing facility in 2014 on Cattlemen). Neither Mr. Gabbert nor Bo Medred said anything about the adjacent 10.6-acre site at the SW corner of Apex and Palmer.
- Mr. Gabbert and Bo Medred repeatedly assured the Board and neighbors that the waste station would not create noise or dust from processing demolition debris or yard waste.
- Bob Waechter spoke in support of Mr. Gabbert's waste transfer facility. He said it would have a nice wall that would make nearby business properties look unattractive by comparison.
- No testimony from an expert on waste transfer stations was cited or offered as evidence.
BCC Action: The Sarasota County Commission APPROVED Mr. Gabbert's plan for a waste transfer facility at East Palmer and Porter Rd.: Resolution No. 2015-203 and Special Exemption No. 1739. (VIDEO)
Mr. Gabbert now completed purchase of the 4.5 acres, and began clearing the land. He also bought a narrow strip from Porter to Apex that runs along the canal south of both of the 4.5-acre parcel he just bought, and of the 10.6-acre parcel next to it, which he as of yet has no ownership interest in. That parcel is never mentioned in the waste transfer station hearings.
April 2015 - County puts 10.6 acres of Public Lands at SW corner of Apex Rd. and E. Palmer out to bid. No bid meets the county's minimum bid requirement of $1.75 million.
December 2015 - County puts same the public land, SW corner of Apex and Palmer, out to bid again.
When did Mr. Medred know that the County intended to market this property? Did he inquire about it before he and Mr. Gabbert successfully applied to develop the 4.5-acre site next to it?
February 2016 - Two bids are received for the 10.6-acre parcel at the SW quadrant of Apex Rd. and E. Palmer Blvd. One from Mr. Gabbert (TST Ventures LLC), the other from Restaurant Depot (JDMH). Gabbert's bid was entered subject to a rezoning.
March 22, 2016 - BCC Hearing to decide which bidder to select. Staff recommends going with Restaurant Depot; Board hems and haws. Due to a stormwater condition, the County is advised by County Attorney of a state statutory rule not to proceed with bids. The Board agrees not to proceed with bids and to issue an Invitation to Negotiate for the same property. VIDEO.
April 11, 2016 - Sarasota County issued an Invitation to Negotiate for the sale and development of the 10.6-acre parcel at the Southwest Corner of Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road - the property adjoining the 4.5-acre parcel Mr. Gabbert purchased in 2015. The minimum acceptable bid is set at $1.75 million for the 10.6 acres. This site, zoned OUR, had been on the county's surplus lands list since 1997, but had not been offered for sale until 2015.
The Invitation To Negotiate (ITN) allows the County to not be required to take the highest bid. It can choose to award the contract based on considerations other than prices. This ITN specified certain economic objectives it will look for in bidders:
- Interested parties that can demonstrate the ability to develop the Property in a manner that works well with this location are encouraged to respond.
- Any proposed development should provide measurable economic development impact on the community.
- Economic Development: Respondent must substantiate project’s ability to demonstrate a positive effect on the County’s economy, job opportunities, function of building design and usage with neighboring uses to create sustainable economic development.
The County received only one bid on the public land -- from Mr. Gabbert -- for a waste processing plant that he said might employ 10.
What was Mr. Gabbert proposing? At the time of his entering into a negotiation, an unenclosed 15-acre waste processing plant was strictly forbidden by County Ordinance, which required 35 acres to buffer such facilities. His bid proposed a violation of County law. Its acceptance would depend on a series of accommodations: a change to County law as well as a successful rezoning and special exception, at the very least.
June 21, 2016 - Nonetheless, staff recommended County Commission direct County Administrator to negotiate a contract for sale with TST Ventures and bring back to the Board on the July 12, 2016 consent agenda for Board’s consideration. VIDEO
Note: When an item is on the "Consent Agenda," it will often be lumped in with several other plans, proposals, or similar matters. The Board can choose simply to silently approve the entire basket of ordinances, resolutions, etc. with a single vote.
This is exactly what happened with Mr. Gabbert's proposal to buy the SW Quad parcel in July 2016:
- July 12, 2016 - BCC ADOPTED Resolution No. 2016-120, authorizing execution of Contract No. 2016-374, a Contract for Sale and Purchase with TST Ventures, LLC, for the sale of approximately 10.6 acres at the southwest corner of Apex Rd. and E. Palmer Blvd. in the amount of $1.8 million. The Board action and vote is taken without any discussion. It was APPROVED 5-0 as part of a Consent Agenda (Item #29 under Public Works). VIDEO
At this point, Mr. Gabbert had an authorized contract to purchase the 10.6-acres of public land near the Celery Fields, but it was against the law to put a Waste Processing Plant on it. A county ordinance required that Waste Processing Plants have 35 acres of land to operate without nuisance to surrounding properties, and must be enclosed. Mr. Gabbert's vision of an unenclosed, 15-acre waste dump would appear to be disqualified. But, no:
Ordinance? We don't need no stinking ordinance...
In October, 2016, Bo Medred asked the County to change its law and standards to accommodate Mr. Gabbert's desire to put a Waste Processing Plant at Apex Rd. and E. Palmer Blvd., next to the Celery Fields.
- Oct 20, 2016 - Bo Medred proposes new standards to reduce the number of acres required for unenclosed Waste Processing from 35 acres to 15 acres. Ordinance No. 2016-082, approving Zoning Ordinance Amendment No. 119.
- Jack Bispham, chair of the Planning Commission, recused himself from the proceeding. Bispham is the brother-in- law of Mr. Gabbert.
- No information or testimony from an expert on Waste Processing was cited or offered by county staff or a commissioner.
Bo Medred's proposed amendment to the County's law and standards begins with Donna Thompson of County Real Estate at about 2:08 hrs. (That single segment can also be viewed here.)
Planning Commission Hearing Oct 20, 2016 on Ord. 2016-084, Amend.119
- During the PC hearing (at 2:32), Bo Medred displayed this photo of a dump in Buffalo NY to illustrate his argument as to why this 15-acre model is perfectly suitable for residential areas of Sarasota County. People's homes visible behind the piles of waste:
|Medred displayed this photo of a Waste Processing Facility on 15 acres in Buffalo NY|
to the Planning Commission.
If nothing else, see the exchange around 2:33 between Planning Commissioner Laura Benson and Bo Medred:
Benson: (referencing the Buffalo illustration): Those pictures were big dirty things.
Bo Medred: That's a . . . that's a . . . that's an opinion.
See also the exchange with Commissioner Jack Hawkins concerning the noise levels of concrete and asphalt crushing operations that begins about 2 hrs. and 39 minutes. No staff or Commissioner put into evidence any documents about the potential problems and issues with siting a waste processing facility. No accredited expert was invited to testify as to siting, pollution, noise, or other impacts upon residences.
Planning Board ACTION:
Oct. 20, 2016 - The Planning Commission APPROVED the amendment by a vote of 6-0 (Bispham recused hmself) as a Special Exception use to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, as Bo Medred recommended. VIDEO
With the blessing of the Planning Commission, Bo Medred moved on, taking the proposed amendment to the Sarasota Board of County Commissions in December.
But here's the thing. . .
Gabbert and Medred submitted the petition for a 15-acre facility to the County in November 2016, a month before the County ever considered changing the law that would allow such a facility to legally exist. Mr. Gabbert spent a large sum of money planning his submittal even though at the time it did not even meet the Zoning Code.
- Public hearing to consider proposed Ordinance No. 2016-082, approving Zoning Ordinance Amendment No. 119. The amendment changes the required acreage for unenclosed recycling and waste processing facilities from 35 acres to 15 acres for Type B, C, and D fill in the IR (Industrial and Research) and the ILW (Industrial, Light Warehousing) zone districts.
- (Not a public hearing.) Land Development Regulation Commission (LDRC) to find proposed Ordinance No. 2016-082 to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. (Must be done prior to the adoption of A).
- BOCC acting as the “LDRC” APPROVE Ordinance No. 2016-082 to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.
- BOCC acting as BOCC ADOPTS Ordinance No. 2016-082, 5-0 vote. VIDEO.
Thanks to the persuasive magic of Bo Medred, a key legal obstacle to building a 15-acre waste processing plant next to the Celery Fields has been removed. Mr. Gabbert has stated that he has operated five such plants over the years, but this 15-acre plant would be the largest he's ever operated.
(To see the facility as 15 acres, however, one has to somehow erase from existence the 4.5 acre waste transfer station, right? Has anyone done the math???)
2017 . . .
In January of 2017, Bo Medred presented the proposal for Mr. Gabbert's Waste Processing Facility at the Celery Fields at two Neighborhood Workshops. The first, on Jan. 5, 2017, had maybe 75 attendees. The second, on Jan. 30, 2017, overflowed the meeting area at the Church of Hope. An estimated 250 people attended that meeting. Virtually everyone who spoke was against siting this facility at the Celery Fields.
Many said they had nothing against Mr. Gabbert or against a facility of this kind somewhere in the County. Everyone said the chosen location -- at a busy intersection of two undersized roads that are already heavily below par -- next to an international tourist destination and fragile bird ecosystem -- likely to drive down property values and endanger the quality of life of birds, schoolchildren, businesses and residents -- was simply the wrong location.
- Jan 5, 2017 1st Neighborhood Workshop/Meeting
- Jan. 7, 2017 Pre-App meeting
- Jan. 18, 2017 County Planner Kirk Crane Letter to Medred - neighborhood meeting required
- January 30, 2017 - 2nd Neighborhood Workshop -- Rezone petition and special exception: Around 250 people turn out to protest the petition.
|Bo Medred and Mr. Gabbert at Jan. 30, 2017 Neighborhood Workshop|
A court reporter made a complete transcript of the 2nd Neighborhood workshop.
Despite sturdy opposition from businesses, residents, Audubon, Sierra Club, and many individual citizens, Mr. Medred submitted Mr. Gabbert's proposal to the Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission has set a public hearing to begin at 5 p.m. June 1 at the County Administration building, 1616 Ringling Blvd. A brief gathering will be held outside the building at 4 pm.
The Planning Commission hearing is quasi-judicial. Those who speak do so under oath. Falsifiers of fact may be charged with Perjury. Bo Medred and Mr. Gabbert will present, a county staff person will offer county comments. The public will have time to speak, the petitioners will rebut, and the Commission will discuss and take a vote.
June 1, 2017 - Planning Commission unanimously votes NO on all three elements of the Gabbert / Medred proposal: No to Amending the Critical Area Plan, No to the Rezoning to ILW, and No to a Special Exception that would allow an unenclosed waste processing facility on the 16-acre site.
It ain't over till it's over.
When it's all over, will we have this:
The saga of Bo Medred and James Gabbert is ongoing, and will be followed here. Please share with those you know who care.
This information was researched and compiled solely with the use of public documents through the volunteer efforts of citizens genuinely concerned about the future of Sarasota County. The Primary Research was done by Adrien Lucas, and storified by Tom Matrullo.