Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Letter to the County re: industrializing public property near Celery Fields

Feb. 21, 2017

To: The Sarasota County Board of Commissioners
RE: Rezone petition 16-33, CAP 83-10-SP, Restaurant Depot, Palmer Blvd. & Apex Rd.
Public Hearing, March 1, 2017
From: Thomas Matrullo

I write as a concerned citizen about a matter of significant public interest:

Two proposed industrial rezonings of public properties at the edge of the Celery Fields threaten to degrade valuable public assets. You’ll be hearing from many concerned residents about the negative impacts a big box Restaurant Depot store and a 16-acre recycling plant will have on traffic, air, water, schools, and a valued bird sanctuary. Let me invite you to step back and consider this from another perspective.You have the opportunity to shape and revitalize a gateway area of Sarasota County. With the wrong decision, a potentially wonderful public outcome will be lost forever.

A bit of background is necessary.

Developers have asked you to approve industrializing a total of about 23 acres at the intersection of Apex and Palmer Boulevard. Two promising, sensitive areas lie near these lots -- The Celery Fields just east of Apex, and the adopted Fruitville Initiative Plan north of Palmer:

Map #1: Apex / Palmer intersection lower left quarter

The Celery Fields began as a regional stormwater project -- it cleanses water, protects against major floods, and manages our stormwater runoff before releasing it to Phillippi Creek and  Roberts Bay. Over time, this public property has evolved into a much loved and used park and recreational facility, and a bird sanctuary listed on the Great Florida Birding Trail, in national and international eco-tourism brochures and tours.

The public properties proposed for industrial use at Apex and Palmer are at the edge of the Celery Fields (Map #2). They should be held to a much higher level of public input and vision. And right nearby, you have a regionally significant example of this higher level of vision in the Plan for the public lands that contain the Fruitville Library. Years of effort on the part of the County, property owners and homeowners resulted in the Fruitville Initiative.

Apex and CF text.png
Map #2 Palmer and Apex Intersection adjacent to Celery Fields

That plan, adopted by this Board in 2014, represents a community consensus. It provides a successful and proven model for planning publicly owned lands -- one that can be used here. The intersection of Apex and Palmer could meet high-level goals including features that would

  • provide high-tech, high-paying jobs in attractive offices
  • promote walkable, mixed use features - cafes, a public garden, art studios, galleries
  • reduce vehicle trips
  • make desirable and truly affordable housing (allowed under MEC) possible.

Such a plan would enhance the potential of the Celery Fields, and the vested Fruitville Plan -- not degrade them.

Now, look at an even bigger picture: You have an opportunity to integrate the Fruitville Initiative, the Celery Fields and the established small business district with Detwiler's, the Packinghouse Cafe, and other commerce just to the west of I-75. Thanks to the Palmer Boulevard underpass (a rare East-West connector), the potential for an attractive, unified community -- varied, viable and walkable -- is already there.

Map #3: Overview from Fruitville Init. (Coburn Rd.) to Packinghouse District

As you see: the central connecting link between the three legs of this prospective community is precisely the public acreage at Apex and Palmer Boulevard. County planners and the Duany planning firm noted this in a study more than ten years ago. They called the intersection “The Quad” (see Item #4). Putting a big box store and recycling plant there would create an obstructive barrier at the center, generating truck traffic and dividing the three key assets: the Fruitville Initiative, Celery Fields and Packinghouse District. Did you bother to ask the people who live and work there before putting the public properties out to bid?

To neglect this chance to shape a well-planned community of substantial historical, natural and economic value would be a new low for Sarasota planning. You’ll devalue the unique adjacent ecosystem, and miss the obvious opportunity to bring together a vibrant community stretching from north of Fruitville Road down to the Packinghouse District. To discard it in favor of accommodating a low-leverage recycling operation and a big box wholesale store would border on an abdication of public policy.

A matter of serious public concern is at stake in your decision. You can help create a vibrant new locale by integrating significant assets in a comprehensive way. You could make Sarasota again renowned for careful yet creative planning. Should you choose to ignore this opportunity, the loss to us all will be incalculable.

One final thought: As the letter from the Sarasota Audubon Society (see item #6 ) makes clear, development in Sarasota is marching eastward. The Celery Fields will become an ever more valued green space as it is surrounded by homes, commerce and industry. Audubon likens it to Central Park in New York City. Think big -- the future will thank you.


Thomas Matrullo
Lake Sarasota
Citizens for Sarasota County

cc: Media, HOA's, Civic, Business, Political, Environmental organizations

Notes and Images

Item #4: Fruitville Initiative planned at cost of $499,000, adopted 2014
Has the County helped it succeed? See this editorial.

The quad .JPG
Item #5: Early envisioning of “The Quad”at Apex & Palmer
Duany Plater-Zyberk Co.


Item #6:  Herald-Tribune, Sarasota Audubon Society LTE 2.16.17

Fight Celery Fields project
Sarasota Audubon's mission is public education and conservation of wildlife habitat. We are aware of Sarasota County's plans to sell two parcels on Palmer Boulevard near the Celery Fields. The proposed uses entail a restaurant-supply facility and a construction material/yard waste storage/recycling facility.
The Celery Fields storm-water facility is a major attraction for citizens, outdoor enthusiasts and schools and is a worldwide destination for eco-tourism.
Sarasota Audubon opposes the sale for these reasons:
1. The lots contain enough acreage for a permanent fire station and additional park/recreation/wildlife habitat.
2. Proposed businesses are not compatible with recreation and eco-tourism and will add hundreds of daily auto/truck trips through strained and inadequate neighborhood roads. This increase will have a detrimental impact on the health and safety of wildlife and humans in the area. Also, thousands of tourists coming yearly to explore the Celery Fields stimulate the local economy.
3. As development surrounds the Celery Fields, available green space will become increasingly necessary to preserving this jewel. The Celery Fields is considered by many to be the "Central Park" of Sarasota County and a major economic driver. Jeopardizing this funding would not be a wise use of county resources.
The public should make its voice heard by contacting county commissioners at 941-861-5000 or scgov.net.
Jeanne Dubi, President, and Robert Wright, Conservation Chair, Sarasota Audubon Society

Item #7: Portion of Celery Fields Hill

celery fields undulation.jpg


  1. Horrible how Sarasota seems to want every green area paved. Please contact all county commissioners and state your opinion. Thank you.

  2. Yes - also, write to your elected state repressntatives and senators,to environmental organizations, to news media, and most of all, urge those who you know to come to the hearing March 1, at the County Commission Chambers, Ringling Blvd. It starts at 9 am but will go on for a while.