Saturday, March 25, 2017

Friday, March 24, 2017

Are we following our Comprehensive Plan in Sarasota?

The Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan ought to encode, as far as possible, judicious care for our community's values. It should embody principles of sound stewardship of our lands and public assets.

And to an extent, it does.

The question is, do our elected officials follow the Comp Plan, as they are required by law to do?

Here is a letter sent to the County in February that points up an apparent discrepancy between intention and act:


To Sarasota County Commission: Michael Moran, Paul Caragiulo, Nancy Detert, Al Maio, Charles Hines

To County Administrator: Thomas Harmer
Cc: Sarasota Citizens

From: Adrien Lucas, Sarasota County Resident

Re: Violations of Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan

To Whom it May Concern:

I have been reading the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan, dated 2/6/17, and it is striking how our Sarasota Planning Commission and Sarasota County Administrator, Thomas Harmer, fail to follow our county comp plan.

I only focused on Element 1, Environmental Systems from our County Comprehensive Plan.  I suspect I, along with others, will find a county system wide failure to adhere to the comp plan in every chapter of the county comp plan, but we are up against a ticking clock.

For all of the county documentation reveling in the future of “eco-tourism” or future planning to help preserve and improve the quality of neighborhood life, these county documents, our Charter and Comp Plan only appear as glossy marketing materials written to entice someone to move here and all will be swell.  
In this email I cut and pasted just a few items, of many, relevant to the proposed rezones, CAPS-critical area plan amendments and sales of county surplus lands from our current Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan, dated 2/6/17.

I hope all of you will read them and consider the validity and importance of our County Comp plan.

The proposals under consideration for both TST Ventures and Restaurant Depot do nothing to enhance the neighborhoods around Our Celery Field or the park. Both companies could have future success elsewhere in Sarasota. This is not "NIMBY'ism" even though I live in South Gate, I consider Our Celery Field, the beaches, Myakka, downtown, Sarasota in its entirety as my back yard.

Thank you for your consideration, I appreciate your time and remain hopeful about your decisions.

Please read just a smidge of what I cut and pasted from our county comp plan:

Source: CLICK HERE, page 4 of 54

A healthy natural environment also contributes to the economic health of an area. It is a key factor in attracting and retaining businesses and people within the County and the region. One of the emerging economic drivers for Sarasota County is  eco-tourism, which is directly tied to the quality and quantity of natural habitats and resources that the county maintains and protects. Eco-tourism activities can range from enjoying a day at the beach to more active endeavors such as kayaking, birdwatching, hiking, and horseback trail riding. These opportunities to connect with and experience nature are another aspect of a healthy and sustainable community.

The Goals, Objectives, and Policies in this Element address the following environmental topics; native habitats and principles for evaluating development proposals in native habitats; wildlife and associated habitat management; citizen, visitor, and business environmental stewardship; managing the coast; creating a network of connected environmental lands and green spaces; and science-based decision making through data collection and monitoring.


Page 7 of 54: The linkages between the built and natural environments are also crucial, as the quality of our natural environment has a direct impact on the health and quality of life of the human community. Development that provides a high quality of life to citizens and visitors should address responsible stewardship of land and natural areas, encourage efficient use of energy, preserve unique character of neighborhoods, and provide a connected system of parks, trails, and waterways. Natural features exist in interconnected systems such as air, water, and nutrient cycles that collectively support life.

Page 12 of 54: env policy 1.3.11 Native habitats set aside in preservation and conservation areas shall be managed in accordance with resource management plans, which are subject to review and approval by the county through the development review process, to ensure maintenance and, if necessary, enhancement of the functions and values of these native habitats in perpetuity. For the maintenance and enhancement of privately-owned preservation and conservation areas set aside prior to the county’s requirement to provide a resource management plan the county shall encourage and provide incentives for management of those areas.

I encourage you all to add Our Celery Field into Item 1.3.13, and Item 1.3.14, shown below:

Page 12 of 54: env policy 1.3.13 Developments surrounding Oscar Scherer State Park, the SchererThaxton Preserve, Myakka River State Park and Myakka State Forest shall avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts to these public lands through special measures that address: water quality and quantity, light and noise pollution, strategies to allow for wildlife movement, and land management practices.

Page 13 of 54 env policy 1.3.14 Protect the natural diversity, processes and functions of natural communities in the public resource lands including Myakka River and Oscar Scherer State Parks, the Scherer-Thaxton Preserve and Myakka State Forest. Coordinate with other government agencies to maintain and enhance soils, groundwater, surface and subsurface waters, shorelines, vegetative communities and wildlife habitats within these management areas.  

Page 13 of 54 env obj 1.4 pollution Mitigate the health and environmental risk associated with natural resources impacted by pollution.

Page 13 of 45 env policy 1.4.1 To the extent practical and consistent with applicable ordinances, the county shall work to reduce pollution entering the environment and to restore contaminated sites.

Page 15 of 54 env obj 1.6 Integrate natural elements into the built environment. env policy 1.6.1 Encourage connectivity within the Urban Service Area Boundary between green spaces creating corridors for birds, fish, and wildlife movement. Priority will be given in creating or enhancing connections that achieve greater net ecological benefit compared to maintaining existing isolated habitat fragments.

Page 17 of 54 env policy 1.8.3 The county will establish and maintain wildlife corridors and coordinate with state and federal wildlife agencies when reviewing development proposals within the Joint Planning Areas set forth in Future Land Use Map Series.

Page 18 of 54 env obj 2.1 habitat for birds, fish, and wildlife Protect habitat for endangered and threatened bird and wildlife species identified in official federal, state, or international treaty lists.

County Source:

Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan, 2/6/17, Policy List by Chapter

Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan, 10/25/16

Source: CLICK HERE, page 4 of 54

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Roundtable on Celery Fields

Great Round Table with Alan Cohn on WWSB last evening. Entire show is below - a few highlights:

Rob Wright holding up County document showing that properties at "The Quad" - the parcels at Apex Rd. and Palmer Blvd. - were included as part of the Celery Fields as environmental lands. These are the very lands the County now has put out to bid and rezone for industrial use. This appears at 10 min, 21 seconds in the video below.

County Map shows Apex/Palmer quadrant as part of Celery Fields - total compatibility.

See also Cathy Antunes' comments at 12:50 on the failure of the County to update its Critical Area Plan for 25 years on this land. I.e., NO PART of the county's land use - surplusing, bidding, C.A.P., rezoning -- indicates proper care and stewardship of these lands.

See also: 

15:30 "Who's defining the value of an area?" asks Cathy Antunes. Special interests vs. public interests.

16:20 - Jon Thaxton: - The Comprehensive Plan is designed to adjudicate these issues.

16:35 - Notification - Rob Wright, former county employee: "The first thing you do is notify stakeholders" of what is planned before executing the plan.

18:20 - Compatibility. Wright notes that Gabbert's plan is totally incompatible with existing uses of surrounding lands.

19:50 - Thaxton - It's less campaign contributions than commissioners' philosophies on growth, and especially the Comprehensive Plan: "What do the policies direct them to do with this decision they must make?"

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Waste Applicant Gabbert dumped funds on Commission

James Gabbert of 1250 Hidden Harbor Way, Siesta Key, an elected member of the Sarasota Charter Review Board, is the applicant wishing to build a construction waste processing facility right by the Celery Fields, on the SW quadrant of Apex Road and Palmer Boulevard.

James Gabbert
At least 22 companies (limited liability partnerships, or LLC's) are registered to Gabbert, according to The Phoenix and other sources, each of which is a conduit to the pockets of the County Commission. According to a breaking story by WWSB, four of the five sitting commissioners received multiple contributions from Gabbert in the last election. Only Nancy Detert was not a recipient of Gabbert's largesse.

Individuals are permitted to contribute up to $200 to a Commissioner's campaign, but each registered company (LLC) may contribute that amount. 22 LLCs = $4,400.

Caragiulo: 21 contributions, $4,200

Hines: 23 contributions, $4,600

Al Maio: 22 contributions, $4,400

Mike Moran: 21 contributions, $4,100

Total from Gabbert, $17,400

WCA Construction waste facility at 8001 Fruitville Rd. 
built by Gabbert, sold to WCA in 2005

Caracara at the Celery Fields

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Such negative public . . .

Via the Herald Tribune

Charlie Bailey:
"None of the almost 120 Restaurant Depots it's constructed in the United States (including 11 it is currently operating in other Florida communities) have ever been the subject of a development approval request receiving such negative public attention, especially without a legal, or even reasonable, basis." he wrote.

Adrien Lucas:
"Bottom line, our County Administrator, the Planning Board and the County Commission have failed the community," she wrote. "They continue to ignore Sarasota's Zoning mission statement that: Zoning's fundamental purpose is to protect a community's health, safety and welfare ... and we have county officials who are more than willing to ignore community concerns."

Don't let the door . . .

Sarasota Manatee Manufacturers say No to Industrializing Celery Fields

Monday, March 20, 2017

Fake Government 101: DEP, Rick Scott, Carlos Beruff, Pat Neal, etc.

How many times do we have to hear that a city, county, or state violated its own rules before it sinks in?

From The Bradenton Tmes:

Conservation: Fighting the Good Fight Keeps Getting Harder

Dennis Maley•Sunday, Mar 19, 2017
Last week, the 5th District Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in an appeal filed by a group of local environmentalists to a permit issued by our local water management board. The permit would allow the destruction of wetlands on Perico Island in order to facilitate politically-connected developer Pat Neal's desire to build homes on the land. 
The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, Suncoast Waterkeeper, Manasota 88, Sierra Club and TBT Publisher Joe McClash are asking the court to reverse a Southwest Florida Water Management District order that awarded Neal a controversial permit to destroy mangroves and build on the coastal wetlands of this critical area that lies in the bay waters between Anna Maria Island and the mainland of northwest Manatee County. 
Neal's request was pushed through Swiftmud by his developer pal, Carlos Beruff. But it should have never even gotten that far. The City of Bradenton clearly violated its own rules in giving approval for the development request, as well as state guidelines on wetlands. The city basically ignored the conservation groups that pointed this out and, in addition to the Swiftmud appeal, there is a pending suit by Suncoast Waterkeeper that challenges the city's approval. Despite the disputes and the fact that the ACOE has yet to weigh in, Neal has begun clearing on the site.  Read more...

From Politico:

DEP employee suspended in 2012 speaks about her experience — and the future

"...when you run into a conflict, what do I follow, the boss or follow the rules?"
An administrative law judge in 2012 disagreed with DEP after it issued a notice of intent to permit the Highlands Ranch wetlands mitigation bank in Clay County. 
Bersok had written a memo objecting to a draft proposed permit and argued that fewer development credits were deserved. 
Shortly thereafter, she was suspended with pay but later was cleared of work violations by a department investigation. Read more . . .

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Wednesday Hearing to address Paving more Wetlands - Manasota 88, Control Growth Now opposing

Update: Benderson loses (Herald Trib)

Paving Paradise – Round Two

Dan Lobeck:
We warned that this would happen.
No preserved and protected wetland in Sarasota County, near any neighborhood or elsewhere, is safe if the County Commission continues to repeal that protection and allow them to be paved over for development.
Wetlands at Honore Avenue and University Parkway in Sarasota County were set aside years ago as preserves in exchange for approval of adjoining developments.   Then in 2016, after developers gained unprecedented control of the Sarasota County Commission, the property owner sought approval from the Commission to pave over the wetlands for parking and buildings, to develop Whole Foods and Wawa stores. 
County environmental staff objected, stating that the wetlands remained functional and valuable and that their destruction for development would violate the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan.  Over the objections of environmentalists and community groups including Control Growth Now, the County Commission approved the rezoning for the wetland destruction on a 4 to 1 vote.  A lawsuit was filed by environmentalists but dropped, apparently due to a lack of legal “standing” to bring suit under a law that requires a showing of damages different from the public at large.
At the time, we warned that if the Whole Foods wetlands destruction could be approved, then other owners of preserved wetlands will come forward to ask that they be paved over for expanded development.
Well, here we go.
On Wednesday, March 22, as the second public hearing after 1:30 pm at the County building at 1660 Ringling Boulevard in Sarasota, Round Two will ring in the saga of Paving Over Paradise.  Concerned citizens have five minutes each to speak.

"Not one more public nickel": Pat Rounds seeks Public Info on Benderson Costs

To the Sarasota County Commission, Nathan Benderson Park Foundation, and SANCA:

On January 18, 2017, Michael Bennett made an appeal to the local state legislative delegation on behalf of the Nathan Benderson Park Foundation for an additional $5 million in state funding for a permanent boat house at Benderson Rowing Park---this handsome sum on top of an initial $10 million in state grants for rowing park Phase I/II infrastructure, and another $2.5 million granted last year. In all, well over $40 public millions have been invested in this park for infrastructure, operations/management, and event hosting expenses for the World Rowing Championships (WRC) this fall.  This total includes over $20 million from Sarasota County. 

According to a Sarasota County press release (Sept, 2013): 
"...Phase III of the project, construction of a state-of-the-art boathouse, timing towers, grandstands and other amenities, will be funded by SANCA and corporate support..." 
Estimated costs of Phase III construction have been up to $22 million. But despite nearly two years of submitting public information requests to Sarasota County, Benderson Park Foundation and SANCA for status updates on private/corporate funding for Phase III structures, the sole document provided has been the attached "Aug 4 email" - a 2015 Benderson Foundation commitment to fund the finish tower (estimated to cost about $5 million). 

So imagine my surprise to see Mr. Michael Bennett on video last month telling local state legislators that $15 million has been raised in "private money" for Benderson Rowing Park. For your reference, a link to the video of the Legislative Priorities Input Session held on January 18, 2017 in the chambers of the Sarasota County Commission is at the end of this message. 

Mr. Bennett appears at 28:40 on the tape, and states: 
'....When you look at the money that we've gotten from the State of Florida, from Sarasota County and Manatee County over the years...$5 million will complete our boathouse.  We have raised about $15 million in private money, and through the foundation we will continue to fund it.....'

Really?  How is it that Mr. Bennett's recent appeal for more state funding divulges private funding figures that haven't been disclosed after months of public info requests? According to the attached 2013 Bi-County WRC Reimbursement Agreement (3Q: Public Records/Open Meetings), SANCA and Sarasota County agreed to comply with F.S.119.  Doesn't adherence to F.S.119 require some transparency?

Rowing Park March 21, 2017

Requests for Public Information:
  • Please provide evidence that $15 million has been raised in "private money" for Benderson Rowing Park. 
  • Please indicate where/how this $15 million has been spent or allocated---beyond funding of the finish tower.  
  • Please indicate the significance of the hand-scribbled statement made on Page 23 of the 2013 Bi-County WRC Reimbursement Agreement--a page from a WRC bid questionnaire listing the provisional budget for capital improvements (including a boat house)
"SANCA and Benderson Development CCC shall have no obligation for these capital improvements."  
If $15 million in "private money" has been raised, Benderson Rowing Park shouldn't need another $5 million in state grants for a boat house. Simple math would suggest that beyond the $5 million spent on the finish tower, there should be another $10 million in "private money" available to fund a permanent boat house and maybe even permanent grandstands.  (Mr. Bennett said that $5 million would complete the boat house, after all.)

SANCA/corporate support should fund Phase III structures as promoted over three years ago.  Not one more public nickel should be granted for this venue until that happens. The State of Florida, Sarasota County and Manatee County have contributed more than their share to this "public/private partnership".  

HB 2161 has recently been introduced in the FL House to fund another $5 million for a boat house at Benderson Rowing Park.  (Also see below.) Since $15 million has been raised in "private money," there is no reason why "public money" should fund a boat house, grandstands or anything else. 

Also, please forward this message to officials at Nathan Benderson Park Foundation, as their newly updated website contains no e-Mail addresses. Speaking of which, the website has new renderings of the future boathouse. The text printed under a previous boathouse rendering has been removed.
See text under the website's former boathouse rendering. Note the timetable and the link between boathouse construction and the World Rowing Championships:   
The Boathouse, also designed by Guy Peterson, will be located on the south end of Regatta Island, opening out into the widest expanse of Nathan Benderson Park Lake. It will consist of two stories. The Boathouse will feature a variety of rowing and boating bays, supplemented by fitness facilities, dressing rooms, offices and more. The boathouse will commence construction in late 2015 and will be opened prior to the World Rowing Championships in 2017.

Please attach this public information request to any official responses.


Pat Rounds
Sarasota, FL


Letter to County Administrator Tom Harmer from Todd M. Mathes:

F L O R I D A H O U S E  O F  R E P R E S E N T A T I V E S

A bill to be entitled 
1An act relating to the Appropriations Project titled 2 Nathan Benderson Community Park Boathouse 3 Construction; providing an appropriation; providing an 4 effective date.
Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida: 7
8Section 1. Nathan Benderson Community Park Boathouse 9 Construction is an Appropriations Project as defined in The 10 Rules of The Florida House of Representatives and is described 11 in Appropriations Project Request 247, herein incorporated by 12 reference. 13
Section 2. For fiscal year 2017-2018 the nonrecurring sum 14 of $5,000,000 from the General Revenue Fund is appropriated to 15 the Department of Economic Opportunity to fund the Nathan 16 Benderson Community Park Boathouse Construction as described in 17 Appropriations Project Request 247. Notwithstanding any law to 18 the contrary, there shall be no recurring funding provided for 19 this Appropriations Project. 20
Section 3. This act shall take effect July 1, 2017.


For more history of the Benderson Rowing Park, see this piece from the Herald Tribune, Oct. 7, 2015.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Letter to Environmental Agencies

This letter from Adrien Lucas went to several federal and state environmental agencies. This was one that went to US Fish and Wildlife.

March 17, 2017

To: US Fish & Wildlife Service - East Region
Supervisory Fish and Wildlife Biologists
Professional Biology Series Staff

My name is Adrien Lucas, I live in Sarasota, FL and have been working on an environmental battle against Sarasota County in relation to the publicly owned lands that surround the Celery Fields regional stormwater facility.  The Celery Fields grew from a county project created mainly to alleviate flooding downstream in our Phillippi Creek basin that ultimately flows into the Sarasota bay.  

The Celery Field was an accidental “eco” invitation to endangered and threatened birds who began showing up in droves, creating a birder’s paradise.  The county recognized this and developed trails, planting native plants in addition to working with the Sarasota chapter of Audubon, creating a facility for Audubon volunteers to engage visitors.  It is our town’s “Central Park” and is known worldwide by birders who travel here for the parks amazing opportunities to see endangered and threatened birds up close in their natural habitat.

Celery Fields from the hill

Recently our County has accepted two offers for two separate parcels adjacent to the park. One is for what the buyer calls a 16-acre recycling plant and waste transfer facility. The recycling would be of construction debris
and lawn scraps, filled with pesticides.  This particular business will be adjacent to the headwaters of Phillippi Creek. The other parcel of land is for a company called Restaurant Depot.  Both of these businesses will introduce major truck traffic in an area where protected bird species are beginning to thrive.

Celery Fields wetlands
We have evidence that these lands may fall under National Estuary protections. I have heard from Sarasota Audubon's conservation chair, Robert Wright, there are reports that blue crab and snook have been found at the headwaters of Phillippi Creek which begins at  the Celery Fields. We are trying to get the document from Mote Marine Laboratory because the information came from there I have not heard back from them yet with Mr. Wright just reporting it at a recent meeting.

In 2016, Mote Marine Laboratory released about 40 snook at eight different release sites to document which shoreline habitat types juvenile snook prefer along Phillippi Creek -- a 7-mile, estuarine tidal creek system that offers diverse habitats for young snook.

Phillippi Creek, Sarasota County

As far as I can determine, Sarasota County documents pertaining to these county lands for sale show nothing from county staff reports in their studies that include documenting the adjacent wildlife and sea life found living on these lands or next to these lands.  Isn’t it the county’s duty to perform these studies in conjunction with state agencies to determine if these properties do not show benefit to the species I mentioned? Furthermore, public opinion is held by many different groups that the county should not have put these lands up for sale at all, due to not only the fragility of the Celery Fields but additional traffic to an already congested two-lane road is going to get worse with the introduced truck traffic. These lands must be recognized as useful lands that are needed for the birds that live in the Celery Fields.

We have had two protest rallies, good news coverage and, at the public hearing for the Restaurant Depot parcel, we managed to get a stay of 30 days because the buyer could not satisfy our Sarasota County Charter in relation to full disclosure of the owners who are trying to buy the land. This has bought us a little bit of time but we are deeply concerned that the county is not going to listen to us and it will be too late if we cannot stop the construction and sales of this property.  The second public hearing for this particular parcel has been rescheduled for April 26 at the County Commission.

I am desperate to try and stop the sales of the lands the county has put up for sale and appreciate any insight you can provide in what I need to do to begin the process to have studies done for the above reasons.

I was given information that your department has the authority under 50402 Code of Federal Regulations to require and process impact studies and enforce of federal laws under Section 9 USC on violations of the act.

I believe our county has failed to apply to the Army Corps of Engineers for any studies about what I am writing to you about. These studies must be performed prior to putting the lands in question up for sale and now two of the parcels are under contract to be sold.  This information appears to not have been disclosed to the potential buyers either.  With Mote Marine Laboratory’s snook study and reported sightings of snook in the headwaters of the Phillippi Creek (that begins at the Celery Field stormwater facility) plus documented sightings of endangered and threatened bird species who may be nesting in adjacent retention pond areas, I see the potential future of EPA pollution dangers given the top of the watershed to the bay.  

Is there any way you can assist us in starting this process with the Army Corps of Engineers?  

For additional reference, see this letter I recently emailed to the Sarasota County Commissioners in relation to the birds I have seen there.

Caracara - a species of concern - Chuck Behrmann, Celery Fields

I thank you for your consideration and appreciate any help you may provide in telling me what documents I need to file or if you know who will file them for us.

I am available anytime to discuss this urgent matter. We are running out of time.


Adrien Lucas

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"We expect better from you"

A letter from Adrien Lucas to the Sarasota County Commission:

To: al maio <>, Commissioner Hines <>, Mike Moran <>, Nancy Detert <>, Paul Caragiulo <>,

Hello Commissioners and County Administrator Harmer,

I find this op-ed an interesting read considering what the county is trying to introduce into the "view" of Celery Field visitors and homeowners who live near Our Celery Field.

There is no way that the county is meeting Sarasota's Zoning mission statement which is "Zoning's Fundamental Purpose is to Protect a Community's Health, Safety and Welfare.

To have additional "ugly" folded into the view from Celery Mountain like Gabbert's proposed dump or maybe a Restaurant Depot is absolutely heart breaking.  Where is the vision for our county?  Are we that small in our thinking that green space is an affront to county government planning?

We expect better from you.

Remaining hopeful you will all follow the zoning mission statement and support your voters demands (that are growing) to cease all sales of surplus lands surrounding Our Celery Field, it's yours too, why not join us?


Adrien Lucas  

Chris Anderson: Benderson Park misses the mark, Herald Trib, March 14, 2017 Source Click HERE

"I tried watching the rowers from the west side of the lake looking east. It lasted about 10 seconds because my eyes were immediately drawn to all of the traffic constantly rushing past on I-75. C'mon, who doesn't love watching big semis at a public park? Extending a buffer wall between the interstate and the park does not make it any better, either.
I watched from the south side looking north and it was the same thing: About 10 seconds and then my eyes were drawn to the unavoidable backdrop of the UTC mall and the skeleton of the unfinished finishing tower that was supposed to be completed in September at a cost of $5 million.
I moved to the east side looking west, and again, ick, more distractions. All I could notice were the concrete power line towers, though on this side at least there was the added bonus of the whooshing car noise coming from I-75 and North Cattlemen Road...
It's a place where power lines, interstate traffic and views of the mall — the last things anyone wants to see at a park and precisely what everyone wants to escape — dominate the landscape."
cc: Celery Field Advocates, Social Media Contacts and Interested Friends