Thursday, February 9, 2017

Adrien Lucas: Sarasota County alert: Impending harm to Celery Fields and local nighborhoods

From Adrien Lucas:
Restaurant Depot/TST Ventures Recycling Call to Action: 
I encourage all of you to write to our County Commissioners:,,,, and Tom Harmer, 
This is the very long-winded letter I emailed today. I hope you will all consider emailing the people listed above and let them know you are following county activity about these surplus land properties and you do not support the proposed rezones or sales. 
Bird Nerds Unite! - Adrien Lucas

February 9, 2017 

To: Sarasota County Commissioners

Bcc: SRQ Press Outlets, Citizen Activists and every friend/acquaintance who has expressed interest in what I have been talking endlessly about for two weeks. 
From: Adrien Lucas, Sarasota County Resident

The future of the Celery Fields is under threat from overdevelopment and traffic. How is the County selling out our premier wildlife site and public safety? I invite you to listen this Friday, February 10th, 2-3 pm. 1220 am, 106.9 fm, 98.3 fm. Or stream it live at, I will be a guest along with Tom Matrullo to share what we have learned about the what may be one of the county’s biggest eco-blunders ever.

Tom and I are just two of many Sarasota citizens, who are working together to educate the public about the county’s attempt to rezone and sell county surplus land that surrounds the Celery Field preserve. We are just two, of many and growing in number, who will try to stop both the Restaurant Depot and TST Ventures from ruining the future of Sarasota’s growing eco-tourism and quality of life shared by the people who live in the neighborhoods near the Celery Field.

I attended last week’s second neighborhood workshop held by James Gabbert and Bo Medred in relation to TST Ventures' request for a rezone in consideration of purchasing county owned surplus land in close proximity of the Celery Fields. It is there I learned of the Restaurant Depot rezone/sale too. I also watched the February 2, 2017 County Planning Commission hearing regarding the rezone request for the Restaurant Depot. With all due respect, the only thing that the Planning Commissioners got right was the Pledge of Allegiance.  
TST/Gabbert Neighborhood Workshop

Listed below are items that are of deep concern.
There are so many problems with both TST and Restaurant Depot’s requests, I will do my best to list the biggest issues I have found thus far:


  1. As presented by Attorney Charles Bailey, the  Restaurant Depot development concept plan is “non-binding” this means that the unknown owners of Restaurant Depot can change their mind upon the completion of the land sale and build anything they want as long as it fits within the new zoning codes. This is not acceptable.  

    Who in their right mind in the county would accept a non-binding agreement in relation to county real estate? The Planning Board members did. This is unacceptable. 

  1. The application discloses that JDMH Real Estate of Sarasota, LLC is the owner who wants to buy this land but the Sarasota Charter clearly states that “true ownership interests in any property sought to be rezoned and shall further disclose the true parties in interest in any corporation, trust, partnership, limited partnership, or any legal entity of any type in their zoning application.”

And yet, even with the interoffice memo from Alan Roddy, Deputy County Attorney, dated 1/24/17, stating as such, Planning Board members voted unanimously to proceed with recommending the rezone, even when Attorney Bailey could only disclose that there were too many people involved in entities that were owned by JRD Real Estate of Florida, such as investors.  

I want to see a list of every person who is related under the helm of JRD Real Estate. Don’t you? And unless Attorney Bailey has changed the The Sarasota County Charter this rule is applicable to the buyers he is representing. I’m sure Mr. Gabbert who sits on the Charter Review Board will be happy to change Section 3.8(1) of the Sarasota County Charter, but as of today, this item, legally, is applicable to documentation that must be transparently supplied by Attorney Bailey.  Otherwise, find another suitable buyer.  
Exhibit “B” Supplemental Ownership Affidavit Information does not satisfy the Sarasota Charter either.  It’s too vague. Again, the burden to disclose the buyers in full is the applicant's responsibility. To name just a few in Item (3) lists one of the potential owners as:
“Abu Dhabi Investment Authority” a Google search states: The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is a sovereign wealth fund owned by Emirate of Abu Dhabi founded for the purpose of investing funds on behalf of the Government of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  
“CCMP Capital Investors” a Google search states they are one of the leading private equity firms in the nation.

I don’t care if Attorney Bailey thinks it is too difficult to meet the current Sarasota County Charter rules of full disclosure, the onus falls upon him to provide every investor’s human first and last name. Corporations are not people and the county Charter of Sarasota reflects that. Further, Attorney Bailey’s unsolicited opinions about the Sarasota Charter during the Planning Board meeting, whether he finds the charter archaic or not, his opinion does not matter. Attorney Bailey still must comply with the existing charter; at the meeting his opinion shows his clear contempt for the county charter and is unacceptable. The Planning Board members should all be fined, penalized or fired for not adhering to the Sarasota County Charter too. I am being very serious and this is applicable to the proposed Benderson Stickney/Tamiami property, but I digress. So many issues, so little time.
Apex is vertical on left, runs north/south, Palmer runs horizontal east/west

In relation to the property related to Restaurant Depot where the temporary firehouse sits: Per documentation and at the meeting, Attorney Bailey states the Sarasota firehouse will remain at the Apex Road property and lease .47 acres for a term of two years for $1 per year. The Lease shall provide for three one-year renewals provided  fair market rent is paid to JMDH by the County annually.  Estimated fair market rent for the third year equals $9,225 per year, the fourth year equals $9,502.00 per year and the fifth year equals $9,787.00.

Are you kidding me?  Clearly with the housing in that area, the school and local businesses that exist (hello Packinghouse Restaurant fire), why doesn’t the county just build the fire house there instead of selling the property?  

A “spine” road does not exist and as stated by county staff, no funding is available and expansion of Palmer Road is not in the five year plan.  So at peak hours in and out, should an emergency occur in one of the neighborhoods, local businesses, a tourist has a heart attack while visiting the Celery Fields, or a child at the nearby school with a peanut allergy who accidentally eats one, any “life safety” issues do not appear to matter that much to the Planning Commission who unanimously agreed to allow the requests for Restuarant Depot to proceed. These potential emergencies, that will occur, are applicable to the TST Ventures rezone as well.  Traffic congestion is going to be a major indisputable issue.
I do not find the above worst case scenarios fitting into the marketing fluff found in the county's zoning guide, that states: “ZONING’S FUNDAMENTAL PURPOSE IS TO PROTECT A COMMUNITY’S HEALTH, SAFETY AND WELFARE.”

The above sentence is taken directly from the counties “What is Zoning?” guide, link to source:

The Planning Board has faied the citizens greatly and I think it is in the interest of Sarasota county residents to consider shelving the Planning Board.



Seriously, a recycling business is going to protect the local communities' health, safety and welfare?  I think not and neither do the homeowners associations in that community, along with the Audubon Society who have clearly stated at the neighborhood meetings and planning commission meetings that the introduction of businesses such as The Restaurant Depot and TST Ventures Recycling will most definitely negatively impact the ecosystem of the Celery Field and its native inhabitants and local neighborhoods.  

Again, traffic is a major consideration in relation to safety and I am not only referring to vehicle crashes, I am referring to increased road rage, quality of life, time lost in transit, additional padding to transit time for families who drive to work, take kids to school, etc. Can the Planning Board and County Administrator Harmer really claim that is quality community health?  

Environmental studies provided thus far are laughable and by visiting the Facebook page “The Celery Fields," there is indisputable daily documentation about the birds and wildlife that inhabit the Celery Field and surplus land areas that you are trying to sell off. I have asked members of this Facebook page to document birds and wildlife that they photograph on the surplus lands in question and will be providing data on this at a later date.

Link to FB The Celery Fields group:

According to the Florida Wildlife Services:

Sandhill Cranes carry the FL Status of State-designated threatened and the diet of the Florida sandhill crane primarily consists of grain, berries, seeds, insects, worms, mice, small birds, snakes, lizards, and frogs. The Florida sandhill crane is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a State-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule

Audubon's Caracara, they too carry the  FL Status of State-designated threatened
and the diet of Audubon’s crested caracara primarily consists of carrion (dead animal carcass), amphibians, reptiles, mammals; eggs; and other birds. The Audubon’s crested caracara is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and they are also protected as a Threatened species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule

As a matter of fact, you may visit the FWS website and I can assure you almost every bird listed as threatened in Florida you will also be able to find at the Celery Field and most likely the surplus land you wish to sell.  CLICK HERE:

Shoddy Sarasota Science.  Preliminary environmental studies provided by county environmentalists and hired ones to study “life” on these properties is shoddy science.  Considering what many of these birds eat, to say nothing lives on these surplus lands is simply a falsehood.  Those flat fields are filled with anoles, snails, bugs, mice.  Oh and that leads me back to the recycling plant who will be receiving land waste. Land waste is notorious for bringing in rats and mice.  Rats love to eat bird eggs.  

I have not delved further into the Florida designated threatened or imperiled lists because I remember how cavalier Sarasota staff environmentalist, Matt Osterhoudt was when he failed the Gopher Tortoise at last year’s give away to Christine Robinson for her beloved gun club expansion on Knight’s Trail.  Mr. Osterhoudt’s recommendations based on his lame “eco-observations” of the area were environmentally criminal in relation to the Gopher Tortoise, American Kestrels and Bald Eagles. I have seen practically all three at the entrance of that gun range and have friends who live off of Knight’s Trail who see all three often.


It was terrific amusement that I read and then reread the new and improved Sarasota County Surplus Land Code that was adopted by the County Commissioners on January 10, 2017.  Full disclosure, I am not an attorney, but it appears the document gives County Administrator Tom Harmer way too much power and the County Commissioners full authority to do whatever they please upon receipt of the Planning Board’s recommendations.

Per the current Sarasota County Surplus Land Code, just a few items of interest were: 

On Page 6, item (e) County Sale, No. 2 Standards - “...In no event shall the uses permitted by any such lease, sale, conveyance or development agreement violate the County’s zoning regulations or comprehensive plan. 
Page 10, item (f) Determination as to Estimated Value of Land…”the County Administrator will determine the estimated value of Surplus Property…using evaluations such as configuration of property, location, upland/wetlands, environmental concerns, ability to develop the parcel in accordance with applicable regulations, current zoning on the parcel, access, highest and best use of this parcel...:” 

Which leads me to believe that County Administrator Harmer is perhaps challenged or not working at his best and most honest capacity when it comes to environmental concerns or best use of the parcels that are under sale and rezoning considerations as they relate to TST and Restaurant Depot. Mr. Harmer also appears to be challenged in charging true real estate dollar value for the surplus lands in question; it would appear he is under-valuing real estate to assist his business friends in Sarasota rather than really determining the best use of these parcels as they relate to the local homeowners and Celery Field preserve.

Certified mail notice to adjacent property owners is ambiguous and really assists Mr. Harmer as to keeping rezoning and sales of surplus property on the down low from local property owners.  At the TST public meeting last week it was repeatedly stated that “notification to property owners is set at a zone of 750 feet circling the property that is for sale and/or to be rezoned." 
It would be prudent to add this information into the county Surplus Land Code manual as there is no reference to the 750-foot notification zone to be found anywhere in it. But that’s just me, I am a stickler. What I did find in the Surplus Land Code was:  

On page 11, item (4) Mailed notice to adjacent property owners….

Nor did I find any reference to a 750 foot area of notice in the 2015 Florida Statutes that is attached and referenced in Sarasota counties 1/17/17 ratified document by Gov. Scott.  

Now this may appear as nitpicking, but seriously, with expansion east of I-75, most of it is still rural. How can we expect homeowner’s and business owners to be properly notified by the county about rezones if the proximity of notification is only 700 feet? And let’s face it, most people do not read public notices in newspapers or bother to check on a weekly basis our counties roster of surplus land or rezone petitions.  And, in my opinion, if a rezone or sale is occurring right next to a Sarasota Preserve, I think everyone in the county should be notified because we are all affected.

Also, FYI, the SRQ Planning Committee website marketing piece on “What is Zoning,” that too only states on page 4, “A neighborhood workshop is required with surrounding property owners. A county planner will attend this meeting to explain the process. There is a $215 fee.”

But nothing about the notification of the workshop needing to be within 750 feet.

However, in this document, bingo:

You must do at least two things to notify affected property owners: a) place an advertisement in a newspaper with general circulation in the subject area, and b) send a notice to all property owners within 750 feet (1500 feet in semi-rural and rural areas) of the subject property. Please see Notices in the Neighborhood Workshop Guidelines for details. If your application involves a telecommunication tower, the radius for the notice is extended to the equivalent of eight times the height of the tower. Planning Services will provide the mailing labels. If any dwelling unit is within a Property Owner's’ Association, the Association must also be notified of the workshop. Link to source

I think the county has failed greatly in notifying the homeowners of developments such as Meadow Wood and LIST them.   

750 to 1500 feet for notification in rural and semi-rural areas simply is not enough and I suspect you all know this.  It’s a great buffer rule to protect the county and leave the masses in the dark as to what changes are going to occur in their neighborhood.

For the record, Mr. Gabbert appears to be building a road that we believe is not on the four acres he owns but is on the acreage he is trying to buy. I have aerial photos that I will share soon, also I will be making a request to the county for public records as soon as I gather the required information needed for my request.  I just wanted to put this in writing that if it is indeed Mr. Gabbert and the county has hired Mr. Gabbert to contour the south border with berms and grass sod and the county wants Mr. Gabbert to have raised berms to protect the site in the rainy season from pollution to the watershed, the county is putting the cart before the horse.  The rezone and sale for TST are in the beginning stages or this is beginning to look like another SRQ county backroom deal.

I’m going to end this letter because I suspect I will be writing many more and seriously, there is just so much to cover!  This is just the beginning of my research. I am working with like-minded citizens from a wide spectrum of neighborhoods and coalitions who are very concerned about the surplus sales discussed in this letter.
On January 30, Gabbert’s second neighborhood meeting was packed by people from the local neighborhoods who were incredibly angry with Mr. Gabbert and the county. A court reporter accompanied me when I attended Gabbert’s second neighborhood workshop and I am happy to share the report with you when it arrives, compliments Mr. Hugh Culverhouse.  

I thank you in advance for your serious consideration of this letter.  Please feel free to call into the radio show this Friday at 2, 941-373-1220, we’d love to hear from you!


Adrien Lucas

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