Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Letter to County: Urgent Request to remove surplus property

In an effort to protect the Celery Fields from further industrial encroachment, this letter was sent to the elected officials, planners and advisers of Sarasota County:

March 6, 2017

To: Sarasota County Commissioners Caragiulo, Detert, Maio, Moran and Hines;
    County Administrator Harmer;
    Director of Planning and Development Services Osterhoudt;
    Planning Commission members Bispham, Hawkins, Benson, Cooper, Cutsinger, Morris, Neuden, Pember, Stultz and Ebaugh.

Cc: Sarasota Citizens and Press

From: Adrien Lucas and Tom Matrullo

Re: Sale of Surplus Lands near Celery Fields - Urgent Request to remove surplus property, SE Corner of Palmer Blvd. and Apex Road, immediately from Surplus Land county website and retract plan to sell our land.

On Friday, March 4, the Sarasota News Leader reported that Matt Osterhoudt had hired the consulting firm of Calvin, Giordano & Associates Inc. to assist in consolidating the County’s land development and zoning regulations by updating and combining these documents into a single document that is planned to be user-friendly. (See Appendix A below)

On February 14, 2017, Sarasota County issued an Invitation to Negotiate the sale and development of the property at the SE Corner of Palmer Blvd. and Apex Road.  

In light of recent strong public reaction to proceedings involving adjacent public lands, and in view of a growing perception of a serious dysfunction in how the County is handling “Surplus” lands, we ask that the February 14, 2017 Invitation to Negotiate the sale and development of the property at the SE Corner of Palmer Blvd. and Apex Road immediately be rescinded.


News that that four parcels of public land at Apex Rd. and Palmer Blvd. have been put out to bid, three of which now are going through the rezoning process (Restaurant Depot, and two parcels, one sold, one under contract to TST Ventures), recently caught the public by surprise, provoking strong consternation and outrage.

All the public knew was that two entities -- one linked to an elected official, the other of uncertain ownership -- had entered upon agreements to rezone three parcels to industrial use -- lands whose surrounding environmental, social, residential, commercial, and transportation contexts had radically changed in the 25 years since these lands were last updated as MEC.

Sarasota County’s Surplus Land Listings web page states: “Real Property that serves no future use for the county may be declared surplus and sold.”

Contrary to Sarasota County’s description of “real property” declared surplus, we find the notion that the lands surrounding Our Celery Fields that County Administrator has put up for sale do in fact serve a very much-needed future use for the county.  

Three major problems immediately became clear:

  1. No one at the County seemed to have considered the impact of 25 years of development upon the lands in question.
  2. No one apparently saw reason to notify anyone beyond 750 feet of these public lands about the pending contractual arrangements, despite the fact that these lands were (a) public, and (b) adjacent to three significant public assets: The Fruitville Initiative, the Celery Fields, and the historic and commercial Packinghouse District neighborhood.
  3. The January 2017 Ordinance No. 2016-087 relating to the disposition of real property entitled “Sarasota County Surplus Land Code” does not support the mission Sarasota County publicly proclaims for zoning: “Zoning’s fundamental purpose is to protect a community’s health, safety and welfare.”

With urgency we request and recommend the following:

Given that Mr. Osterhoudt has just now launched a laudable initiative to integrate planning and zoning regulations into a single, “user-friendly” document, we believe it would be simply common sense to stop the clock on these surplus land proceedings, and rescind the 2.14.17 Invitation to Negotiate. This action would give the public and the County the opportunity to devise new ways of integrating public input and judgment into the oversight and administration of public lands.

It should be clear that there is growing outrage at the astonishing incompatibility of these proposed new uses and the nature of assets highly valued by the community. To proceed with some new entity upon the bidding and rezoning of yet another parcel -- the SE quadrant of Apex and Palmer -- would only compound the existing public relations quagmire in a most user-UNfriendly manner.

This particular parcel is not under contract yet. By taking our recommendation to stop the clock and rescind the 2.14.17 ITN, the County would demonstrate its willingness to acknowledge and begin to implement Mr. Osterhoudt’s stated intent (Appendix A) to shepherd this process “to the full engagement effort” with community members.

One final point: It has recently come to our attention that, due to the proximity of the ITN, dated 2/14/17, on SE Corner of Palmer Blvd. and Apex Road, the County may be breaking a Federal law in relation to protections afforded endangered birds that might nest in grasses surrounding the pond next to this property. Also, that particular property has a storm ditch we believe feeds into Phillippi Creek. We have received reports of findings of unexpected species such as Snook and Blue Crab in that waterway. This estuary most likely deserves protection status and as the new information suggests, close study of the waterway is surely warranted.

The above is a capsule summary of concerns, findings, and research assembled by a growing working group of citizens deeply concerned by the County’s approach to managing public lands. We are heartened by the announced initiative to bring the community into the planning and zoning process. We believe it would be a clear sign of good faith to start now, by stopping the clock on the ITN of 2.14.17.

If you feel the need for more information, we would be willing and very interested to discuss the process used by the County to identify, manage and sell surplus lands.


Adrien Lucas
Tom Matrullo

Appendix A

Osterhoudt likened the first step of the project to “a discovery phase,” during which the consulting firm will research all the necessary codes and other material and meet with a variety of groups to develop “an annotated outline of identified issues, a refined outreach plan and a draft of the proposed [Unified Development Code] structural outline,” according to a slide he showed the commissioners.
The second phase will call for a consulting firm to move “to the full engagement effort” with community members; that will include surveys, meetings and public workshops.
The third and final phase will encompass the formal public hearing process before the Planning Commission and the County Commission, Osterhoudt said.
The timeline he showed the board calls for three preliminary public meetings:
  • April 6, when the Planning Commission will meet at 6:30 p.m. in the Commission Chambers at the County Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.
  • April 10, when the Board of Zoning Appeals will hold a session at 6 p.m. at the County Administration Center in Sarasota.
  • April 19, when the county’s Development Service Advisory Committee will meet at 2:30 p.m. at 1001 Sarasota Center Blvd.
The schedule calls for county staff to receive the first draft of the proposed Unified Development Code in December. If all goes as planned, the document will be adopted and published in September 2018, Osterhoudt noted.
Staff already has created a web portal on the county’s website, Osterhoudt explained, so members of the public can provide comments and read monthly reports on the progress of the work. The webpage may be accessed easily by clicking on “Unified Development Code Project” under the Initiatives heading in the lower left-hand corner of the county’s website, he added.

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