Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Sarasota Audubon Speaks Out against Industrial Rezoning at Celery Fields

In a strong letter to the County Commission and head of Sarasota County Planning, the Sarasota Audubon Society left no doubt about the prospects for harm, and loss of potential good, that would come from the County approving the sale and rezoning of two rural lots it owns to industrial developers:

1. A 12-acre recycling plant proposed by James Gabbert, and

2.. A 60,000-square-foot wholesale restaurant supply store proposed by Restaurant Depot.

The lots sit at the intersection of Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road. Both industrial rezonings have already drawn sharp criticism at crowded hearings and workshops. Gabbert's recycling center, which would generate 100 trucks per day on Palmer, received a barrage of opposing comments from local residents and business owners, as well as from residents who fear for the long-term health of the Celery Fields. This county park features an unusual (for Florida) hill that serves as a recreational area. It also has substantial wetlands that function both a stormwater control facility, and a bird sanctuary.

The sanctuary has become a hub of eco-tourism, drawing birders from out of state and even internationally. A nature and educational center operated by Audubon opened there recently.  A new site CeleryFields.org, just launched to gather support for the sanctuary.

Restaurant Depot

Restaurant Depot's proposed store would generate traffic and operate 7 days a week. It passed the pro-development Planning Commission with a non-binding clause that could allow for other, even more intense uses of the land.

The Audubon Society's letter below articulates the problems and the potential that would be lost if these two lots, amounting to about 20 acres, were rezoned from rural to industrial use.


Join us in opposing development next door to the Celery Fields


Many of you have asked about Sarasota Audubon's position on the county developing parcels near the Celery Fields.


The County plans to sell two of three parcels of "surplus" land located at the intersection of Palmer Blvd. and Apex Road just west of Celery Fields Park. Current bids have come from a 60,000 sq.ft. restaurant supply facility and a construction material and yard waste storage and recycling facility.

Sarasota Audubon Society OPPOSES this.  

Here is why: 

Since its inception, the 360-acre Celery Fields area has become a major attraction/recreation area for local citizens, outdoor health enthusiasts and school groups; as well, it is a worldwide destination for Eco-tourism and Birding in addition to the primary function of retaining and cleaning storm water entering Phillippi Creek.  

With the frantic pace of current development in the area, we oppose these land sales and rezoning for the following reasons:
  1. The three lots in question, already owned by the county, contain enough acreage to provide a permanent fire station, additional park/recreation facilities for public use and create a planted wildlife habitat buffer zone from existing industrial uses.  
  2. The proposed businesses are not compatible with existing and increasing recreational use and Eco-tourism in the area. The proposed recycling/processing facility and restaurant supply depot will add hundreds of daily car, van and heavy truck traffic onto already strained and inadequate neighborhood roads. The increased traffic, debris, noise, vibration and exhaust fumes will have a major detrimental impact on the health and safety of birds and wildlife in the area as well as the humans who come to recreate and enjoy nature. Tens of thousands of tourists come each year to explore the Celery Fields and spend money locally, bringing a significant economic benefit to the county.
  3. As development continues to surround the Celery Fields, available "Green Space" will become more and more valuable and necessary to preserving this "Jewel" of Eco-tourism. The Celery Fields is considered by many to be the "Central Park" of Sarasota County and a major economic driver for the future. Any action jeopardizing this funding source would not be prudent or a wise use of County resources.
  4. These land sales are openly opposed by all conservation/citizen groups and nearby neighborhood associations. The citizens of Sarasota County, as the current owner of these properties, should be the driving force in determining how the land will be used in the future.
NOW IS THE TIME to make your voice heard on this issue by contacting your Sarasota Board of County Commissioners listed below to express your views. We appreciate your support.  

Jeanne Dubi, President
Robert Wright, Conservation Chair
Sarasota Audubon Society
999 Center Rd. Sarasota, FL 34240
How to contact your County Commissioner:

Michael A Moran, District 1, mmoran@scgov.net
Paul Caragiulo, District 2, pcaragiulo@scgov.net
Nancy C. Detert, District 3, ncdetert@scgov.net
Alan Maio, District 4, amaio@scgov.net
Charles Hines, District 5, chines@scgov.net

(We favor sending the email to all Commissioners at the same time so they can each see that their colleagues received it. We request that communications from our members be civil, courteous and respectful.

Want to talk to us?
Contact Conservation Chair Rob Wright at (941) 587-9665

Sarasota Audubon Society (SAS), headquartered in the Sarasota County Celery Fields Park, has a primary mission to advocate the conservation of habitat and educate the public on the value of these natural areas and the wildlife found there. 

Photo Credit: Mary Smiley


The County Commission will hold a public hearing on Restaurant Depot's plan on March 1, 2017. Cathy Antunes has written about the flaws in the Planning Commission hearing. 

March 1 Hearing on Restaurant Depot - 9 am.


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