Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Letter to the Planning Commission: Jason Boehk

Dear Planning Commissioners Benson, Bispham, Cooper, Cutsinger, Ebaugh, Morris, Neunder, Pember, and Stultz:

As a Sarasota resident and taxpayer, I urge you to reject the Proposed Land Use Change for Critical Area Plan Amendment Rezone Petition No. 17-01 to Rezone approximately 16 acres from ILW (Industrial Light Manufacturing/ and Warehousing) with Stipulations and OUR (Open Use Rural, 1 Unit to 10 Acres) to ILW with Amended Stipulations, and Special Exceptions No. 1765 to Allow a Recycling Facility in ILW Zone District.

I strongly oppose the proposed rezoning and “special exception” for the following reasons:

1. Serious ethical and legal questions are swirling around the entire process by which the County has jettisoned the parcels in question. I remain hopeful that a thorough investigation, by County whistleblowers or others, will reveal the true nature of the transactions. One thing is clear to me: the beneficiaries of selling the valuable parcels, which represent an important buffer for the fragile habitat of the Celery Fields, do ~not~ include the taxpayers and residents of Sarasota County.

2. The Celery Fields is a tremendous asset for the County, and a huge potential economic driver via ecotourism. Allowing the siting of a concrete-crushing and building-waste processing facility adjacent to this treasure, is entirely reckless and irresponsible. Moreover, doing so will represent an insult to the visionary County and community leadership from years past, efforts that combined with serendipity to make the Celery Fields into a unique environmental boon for the County as well as a nationally-recognized destination for birdwatching.

3. I work for a company with offices located off Porter Road, so I am already familiar with the degraded road and public safety situation in the vicinity of the proposed waste-processing facility. This facility will add many more trucks to roads that are already insufficient. With school traffic and the impending completion of more residential communities in the neighborhood, approving this rezone and special exception will demonstrate a willful disregard for public safety.

4. Sarasota County’s Zoning Mission Statement states that “Zoning's fundamental purpose is to protect a community's health, safety and welfare.”[1] A concrete-crushing facility in this location will jeopardize all three. Moreover, this is a not how a “Critical Area Plan” deserves to be handled by Sarasota County government.

In sum, I am hard pressed to find a more egregious example of the County’s poor stewardship of our public lands and resources than this one, with the convoluted, opaque process surrounding Jim Gabbert’s acquisition of these properties, and the County’s bizarre, apparent encouragement of his effort to build a waste processing facility adjacent to East County’s “Central Park,” the Celery Fields.

The prosperous, dynamic future of Sarasota County is tied to the fortunes of the Celery Fields, not to a concrete-crushing facility in the same location.

Please, adhere to the genuine letter and spirit of Sarasota’s zoning, and reject this outrageous proposal.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Jason Boehk

[1] Zoning: An Explanation of Zoning Districts in Sarasota County, Florida

Letter to the Sarasota Planning Commission: Bill Zoller

Letter from architect and longtime resident Bill Zoller:


I am a long-time resident of Sarasota County, and I am writing today to request that you recommend denial of the above-referenced petitions.  Living not far from the Celery Fields since 1972, and having observed the transition from active celery-production to a valuable stormwater, recreation, and wildlife facility, this property, and the open space around it, it is apparent to all that this area has become a very special place…to residents and to visitors and tourists alike.  When the County purchased these lands from primarily the Ferlisi and Walker families for the intended purpose of preventing future flooding, it was not generally realized that this intended purpose would turn out to be just one of the many benefits to the community.

As the Celery Fields stormwater facility came to fruition, the area to the east was largely undeveloped, and there were some small light industrial uses to the west.  As the ponds began to fill, and plants grew, the birds and other wildlife began to flock to this “refuge”.  Sarasota Audubon was quick to understand what a unique opportunity this presented, and through their efforts, the County came on board to assist in making the Celery Fields a birding destination.  Not only did the birds flock to the Celery Fields, but so did the eco-tourists…from all over the world.  Over the past few years, Audubon and the County made an arrangement that permitted Audubon to build a first-class resource facility right at the center of the Celery Fields.  I’m sure a look at the Audubon guestbook would reveal a startling number of visitors from far and wide.

When Palmer Boulevard was repaired and improved (while still remaining a two-lane road), the County erected tall, large lights along the road.  It became immediately apparent to citizens and to Audubon, that these lights could be a serious threat to the nesting and breeding of the birds and other creatures that made the Celery Fields their home.  When this was brought to the County’s attention, the County recognized the vulnerability and sensitivity of the wildlife, and realized that the lights were, indeed a threat.  In fact, while the County did not remove the lights (in case they might be needed in a storm/flood emergency, they have never been turned on…they remain dark to this day.  They remain dark because it is the right thing to do…and because a threat to the success of the Celery Fields as a nature/wildlife preserve is a threat to eco-tourism, which is a threat to our tourist economy.

This preamble brings us to the subject at hand: an industrial construction debris processing plant proposed for the edge of the Celery Fields.  While many of the assertions made by the applicant in his submittal lack documentation (as required), and can be examined in detail, the crux of the matter comes down to the compatibility of this sort of noisy, dusty, plant with the valuable recreational/nature/wildlife preserve that is the Celery Fields.  The County itself has, as outlined above, recognized the vulnerability of the wildlife in the Celery Fields; the County has recognized that turning on the lights would be a big risk…a risk they were unwilling to take.  Is not a construction debris processing plant a risk to the welfare of the wildlife?  The proposed facility will grind, crush, and haul away concrete, wood, metal, plastics, and all manner of material, some of which may well contain toxic materials. With the eastern areas out along Palmer Blvd. having been developed over the past few years, residential traffic has increased many-fold on the road.  The trucks that would haul these materials in and out would also create heavy traffic on an already inadequate road, in addition to more noise and pollution.   Is this a risk worth taking?

While the application asserts that no endangered wildlife has been seen on the site, where is a report by a qualified expert documenting this statement?  There are statements about noise levels of similar facilities in the area, but where is a report laying out these levels, including the noise levels of the surrounding areas of those facilities (keeping in mind that the Celery Fields area is a very quiet area)?  The vagueness of these sorts of statements calls into question where staff’s reassurances come from.  Is staff qualified in each of these technical areas to render judgment on the validity of the applicant’s assertions, given a lack of qualified documentation?

Commissioners, you are familiar with the Celery Fields.  You understand the vulnerabilities of the plants and creatures to noise and to pollution of air or water.  Sarasota has a world-class triple-duty facility that is enjoyed by residents and visitors, and that brings substantial economic benefits to the County.  We always come back to the issues of the health, safety, and welfare of the entire community. The benefit to one must be weighed against the risk to all; is it worth risking?

Again, Commissioners, please recommend to the County Commission that these petitions for a construction waste processing plant be denied.  To answer my own question, No, it is not worth the risk.

Sincerely yours,

William C. Zoller
6375 McKown Road
Sarasota 34240

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Save the Date, June 1, 2017

Sarasota Stakeholders of the Celery Fields are asked to attend a peaceful protest prior to the Planning Commission meeting.

Following the protest, Celery Field Stakeholders are asked to attend the Planning Commission meeting where we will witness the process and those who wish will voice their opposition to the county’s proposed rezoning and sale of surplus public lands for “Gabbert’s Dump” on our property adjacent to Our Celery Field owned by Sarasota County and the people of Sarasota County.
Rally, June 1, 2017 @ 4PM 

A peaceful protest will begin at 4 p.m. in front of the BOCC building on the Ringling Boulevard sidewalk.

Please bring signs, we will have some signs on hand but colorful signage is encouraged.

This may be a long meeting, you are encouraged to bring water and a snack.

We thank you advance for your civic participation whether in person or via email.

Together, with you, our efforts are a non-partisan effort.  Political party affiliation plays no part in this community wide effort to demonstrate to our Planning Commission, County Administrator and Board of County Commissioners' that we oppose this egregious plan and we expect them to uphold Zoning's fundamental purpose to protect a community's health, safety and welfare.

1660 Ringling Boulevard, Sarasota, FL 34236

The Rally begins at 4 PM, please join us in front of this building on the sidewalk. 

PARKING: Public parking may be found behind the County Building, we encourage carpooling.   
Planning Commission Meeting
June 1, 2017 @ 5PM
The Planning Commission Meeting begins at 5 p.m., located in the Commissioners’ Chambers. Mr. Medred will present the TST Recycling Dump project to the Planning Commission.

We will have a 3-5 minute opportunity to speak during public comments to the board. However, our speaking time may depend upon how many of us sign the speaker cards.

If you wish to speak, look for speakers' cards. The cards are available on either side of the chamber as you walk in. Fill out the card fully, then take the card and leave it with the clerk seated to the right of the dais.

If you are interested in speaking and are unsure about what you wish to say, please view some topics for consideration below.

  1. traffic congestion with introduction of new truck traffic to dump
  2. diminished air quality
  3. impact to home values
  4. road safety
  5. impact to Tatum Ridge Elementary children commuting by bus or by parent
  6. impact to local neighborhood traffic commute times

  1. pollution will harm threatened and endangered birds, fauna, insects, fish and wildlife of park will be in harm's way with location of dump
  2. integrity of Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility will be impacted by additional burden of "filtering" fugitive airborne concrete particulate and leaching of dump materials
  3. birds listed as threatened or endangered remain fragile in numbers
  4. noise pollution will mask bird calls, birds use their calls to find mates

  1. County failure to recognize changes to the area using antiquated zoning and land use designations going back one quarter of a century
  2. failure to recognize value of Celery Field's eco-tourism as a growing and sustainable revenue tax base for the county
  3. failure to protect the investment of county dollars ($30 Million +) invested to build the Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility, observation mound, bird walks, park trails and preserve area
  4. failure to adhere to Sarasota's Zoning Mission Statement that Zoning's fundamental purpose is to protect a community's health, safety and welfare.
Proposed Land Use Change for: Critical Area Plan Amendment Rezone Petition No. 17-01 to Rezone approximately 16 acres from ILW (Industrial Light Manufacturing/ and Warehousing) with Stipulations and OUR (Open Use Rural, 1 Unit to 10 Acres) to ILW with Amended Stipulations, and Special Exceptions No. 1765 to Allow a Recycling Facility in ILW Zone District.
Email the Planning Commission

JUNE 1 @ 4PM
1660 RINGLING BLVD., SRQ, FL 34236

JUNE 1 @ 5PM
1660 RINGLING BLVD., SRQ, FL 34236

JUNE 23 @ 9AM



We encourage you to email the Planning Commissioners' and share with them why you are against any development on the Celery Field "Quad" properties and that you oppose Mr. Gabbert's "dump."

Emails to the Sarasota Planning Commission:

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Somebody noticed

Created by Ralph Smith
Copyright 2017 Sarasota Herald-Tribune .  
Reprinted by express permission of the Herald-Tribune Media Group  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Objective Data and Waste


On Aug. 20, 2015, you approved Special Exception Petition No. 1739, allowing a Waste Transfer Station to be built at the corner of Porter Road and Palmer Blvd. The development concept plan was binding by stipulation.

I would note that the County Planner did not explain what a waste transfer station does. No specifications were offered as to how many tons of C & D debris would be transferred daily. 

Without such specifications, certain facts would be impossible to ascertain. For example, the waste tonnage is the hinge data used to calculate the size of the site, as well as the number and size of trucks that would utilize the facility. Please consult this EPA document about siting Waste Transfer Stations

On p. 21-22, the tonnage is used as the basis of a formula for site size. On p. 16, the document discusses the need for internal road configurations able to handle trailers from 50 to 70 feet in length.

"These vehicles need wide roadways with gradual slopes and curves to maneuver efficiently and safely," the EPA notes (p. 16). 

It is concerning to me that a basic question as to what tonnage the facility is designed for was never addressed at your hearing.

Bo Medred
Also of concern is that neither the necessary size of the interior roads, nor the fact that the plan for this facility called for an entry point near the intersection of Porter and Palmer Blvd. (by the underpass beneath I-75) was really determinable due to the vagueness of the presentations. The intersection is a tight location for regular cars, let alone large trucks.

Mr. Bo Medred repeatedly stated there would be no noise, no processing of any kind at this Waste Transfer site. He speaks of a nice wall and other cosmetic issues. What is lacking is the kind of hard factual information that would enable any authority to ascertain whether Mr. Medred's claims - e.g., that there would be no stockpiles, no traffic issues, etc., that spotters would detect illegal materials -- can seriously be relied upon.

Now Mr. Medred is back to enlarge this entire operation. He wishes to put his Waste Transfer Station AND a Waste Processing Plant on 16 acres. 

You will recall that on Oct. 20th, 2016, you ok'd a text amendment that changed an ordinance to allow waste processing in certain areas on 15 acres, rather than 35. This drastic reduction was clearly driven by Mr. Medred and his client's desire to put a Waste Processing center on this parcel at the Celery Fields.

I will note that you and the BCC approved Ord. 2016-082 which under certain conditions can allow waste processing on 15 acres. It does not, however, state that waste processing AND waste transfer are allowed on that acreage.

If anything, the 4.6-acre waste transfer parcel was too small for its avowed purpose. Now, aside from all the other issues raised by the degrading prospect of a waste processing facility at Apex and Palmer, there is the double intensification of ILW, the double use of the same 16 acres for two distinct operations. You are not being invited to bend the law, but to distort it beyond all recognition.

The proposal you will hear seems neither to be workable, nor to fit the letter of the law you voted to change last October - let alone its spirit.

This is a matter of high concern. Please base your decision on June 1 on objective evidence,  unimpeachable testimony and solid data. If you do not feel you have all of that, simply postpone until such time as clear, certain evidence enables you to make a fair and just judgment.


Tom Matrullo

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Boy Scout writes to the Planning Commission

This letter was sent to the County Planning Commission today:

Dear Members of the Sarasota County Planning Commission,

My brother and I are Boy Scouts with Troop 23 in Sarasota.  We are writing to inform you of our views on the possibility of allowing a construction and demolition facility to be built next to Celery Fields.

Sarasota County should not rezone land next to Celery Fields for Industrial Use.  

Our reasons are that this would be harmful to the environment, have a negative community impact and there are better land management choices available.  

Reason 1:  Harmful to Environment

Celery Fields is a 100-acre wildlife and bird sanctuary.  Besides noise pollution, trucks would add air pollution and water pollution to the area.  There are also threatened species of birds spotted at Celery Fields, which is listed on the Great Florida Birding Trail.

Celery Fields and surrounding acreage aid Eco-Tourism in Sarasota County.  Eco-tourism is focused on “green space” activities with sustainability and low-carbon footprint at its core.

Reason 2:  Negative Community Impact

The land at risk for industrial development has Tatum Ridge Elementary School close by.  More than 700 students attend this school and would be exposed to any air and noise pollution produced.

Residential subdivisions would be affected with lower property values and that would decrease tax revenue for Sarasota County.  Pollution would affect these residents as well.

Sarasota Audubon Society has a Nature Center at Celery Fields.  School groups as well as civic groups like the Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Boys Scouts visit Celery Fields for outdoor adventure trips in addition to the Nature Center.  The Audubon Society which educates our community is opposed to this industrial development.

Reason 3:  Better Choices for Land Management

There is enough acreage to provide a permanent fire station for the surrounding community as well as park and residential facilities for public use.  There is also enough acreage to create a planted wildlife habitat and buffer zone to protect our waterways and wildlife.  

Sarasota County should not sell this valuable land for industrial use.  It is next to the fragile ecosystem of Celery Fields, is surrounded by residential neighborhoods and a local public school.

Instead, Sarasota County should preserve it and make a better land management choice for our community, our environment and our future.

Thank you for allowing us to state our thoughts on this issue.  Below is a paragraph and questions referring to my Citizenship in the Community Merit Badge.  I am to interview you, the Sarasota County Planning Commission.


For my Citizenship in the Community Merit Badge, I chose to research the topic of rezoning Celery Fields for Industrial Use because of the large amount of citizens opposed to this.  According to the Audubon Society, "The current offer to sell public lands adjacent to the Celery Fields for a construction waste processing facility has drawn the focus of adjacent neighborhoods, environmental groups, conservationists, and many concerned individuals."

Please answer the following:

1) Sarasota County has invested at least $24 Million for the Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility construction.  Why would Sarasota County want to put at risk that investment for a Construction Debris and Demolition Facility that would cause a large amount of harm to Celery Fields and ultimately our waterways?

2) What can our citizens do or say to help convince you, the Planning Commission, to not allow the Construction Debris and Demolition Facility to be constructed on and next to conservation lands?

Thank you for your assistance and we hope our views will help you make a good decision for our community.

Ardin Wilson
Morgan Wilson

Boy Scout Troop 23
Sarasota, FL

On rational planning in Sarasota

Does Sarasota County employ reason when it plans? It used to.

More than 20 years ago, the stewards of the county saw a problem with flooding in Phillippi Creek. They did the studies, got the grants and assessed homeowners. They put in place a by all counts highly successful regional stormwater system. It won awards.

Birds found the open space. People liked the mound that was made from the earth moved to create stormwater capacity. More and more people flocked to it for all sorts of purposes. At first there were no rules, no bathrooms, no benches, trails or trees. You could walk your dog there without a leash, and find bicyclists, horseback riders, Tai Chi practitioners, birders, power skateboardists, lovers of open vistas and inclined planes. There was a whiff of unplanned life. A free style not designed on creaky marketing storyboards.

Over time the Celery Fields have grown - matured - become more beautiful, and a bit tamer. Audubon has a terrific center that's drawing locals and international visitors.

In the wings is another fascinating project - the Fruitville Initiative. The nucleus of this goes back to 2005 or so, and involved some creative interaction between the county's planning dept. and the Duany urbanist firm. 

Fruitville Initiative "Riverwalk" - Polyzoides

The waterway? That's the northern cell of the Celery Fields. The concept, spanning an innovative mixed use community that would retain the rural character of East County while bringing major employers, perhaps an Audubon-themed hotel, a Riverwalk as well as shops and cafes - took detailed form over a year in 2010-11, achieving a compromise vision and a $500,000 plan that was officially approved in 2014 by the County Commission.

So far, this sounds like a serendipitous convergence of local innovation, gracefully evolving nature, and superb practical engineering. A basis for real economic development (no handouts, thank you) seemed underway. Now, with the help of developer-agent Bo Medred, a giant waste processing plant is proposed on public land at Apex Rd. and Palmer Blvd., just west of the Celery Fields.

A less propitious idea is difficult to imagine. 

At the Jan. 30 neighborhood meeting where over 200 concerned residents came out, questions on a host of issues were asked. Not all were dignified by either Bo Medred or his client James Gabbert with a response:

FEMALE AUDIENCE: If there's so much land that's just vacant, just swampland all over Florida, why can't you go out where there's no homes? There's lots of acreage all over Florida that are just parked, nothing there. (Applause.)

JIM GABBERT: The next question? (Jan. 30 workshop transcript here)

Does this "plan" square with the Comprehensive Plan's vision of Economic Development? Of compatibility with surrounding neighborhoods and uses?  Of the county's avowed mission of "protecting a community's health, safety and welfare?" 

Ask our county planners. Ask Kirk Crane, who sees no problem here. A demo waste center on weak roads near an international tourist center -- of course. Giant concrete crushing activities audible at a distance - why not? Diesel engines running non-stop from 7 am to 5 pm, six days a week? The assiduous Mr. Medred got the county to change the law so that other such facilities can come to residential areas near you.

Does Sarasota still use reason in planning? Or is there planning, and "planning"? A timeline might help.

Neighborhood residents are meeting Thursday, May 25 to talk about the Medred proposal and the Celery Fields:

On June 1, the county's Planning Commission will hold a hearing and vote on whether to recommend this curated catastrophe to the Board of County Commissioners. It's at the Admin building at 1616 Ringling Blvd. - there's an informational gathering at 4 pm. The hearing begins at 5 pm.

If planning in Sarasota is no longer rational, what is it?

To review:
What is at risk?
What can we do?


Monday, May 22, 2017

Lung Cancer Concern: "NO" to waste processing and fugitive dust at the Celery Fields

Honorable Commissioners and Planning Director:

My name is Jami Caseber. I live in Lake Sarasota. I am past Director of Citizens Opposing a Polluted Environment (COPE) and I was the Mayor’s appointee and past Chair of the Berkeley Community Advisory Commission (CEAC). I am here representing myself as well as Palmer East Group.

Palmer East Group contends the proposed TST project 17-01 and Special Exception 1765 should not be approved by the Planning Commission because the project is inconsistent with Goals, Objectives and Policies of Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan (1)

Negative impacts to air quality from the project are a matter of serious concern.

In the operation of this facility there will be three or more sources of ambient air pollution (e.g. fugitive dust) : crushed concrete dust (silica), soot from diesel exhaust and wood dust. We contend that, with 35-ft. or higher piles of crushed concrete (see section “a” Special Exception), in normal to high winds, no amount of spraying will prevent significant amounts of fugitive dust from entering the environment.

Considering the normal wind patterns blowing from west to east, impacted populations from fugitive dust include:
  • hundreds of Sarasota citizens who recreate and bird watch at Celery Fields each week;
  • walkers, hikers, joggers and bikers who use Palmer Blvd.; 
  • Tatum Ridge Elementary School; 
  • Meadow Walk homeowners; 
  • Big Cat Habitat; and 
  • bird and wildlife populations centered in and around Celery Fields. (Comp Plan Env. Goal 3.2 and others listed below). (2)
Concrete Dust (silica), Diesel Exhaust (soot) and Wood Dust all have certain characteristics in common. Each contains fine inhalable particles (PM2.5) and breathing each can cause lung cancer. (3), (4).

In conclusion, any heavy industrial use, especially the one being proposed, is inconsistent with the Environmental Objectives. Goals and Policies enumerated in the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan. Because of many negative environmental impacts, it is self evident that the proposed use is totally incompatible with the long time and current use of nearby Celery Fields as a popular recreation center, wildlife habitat and bird sanctuary. (see Comp Plan Environmental Objective 1.1) (5).

For the above reasons, we respectfully urge the Commission to VOTE NO on any recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) for any changes in zoning that would accommodate heavy industrial uses especially the one currently under consideration.

Jami Caseber, Environmental Information Coordinator - Palmer East Group
  • Former Director - Citizens Opposing a Polluted Environment (COPE) 
  • Former Chair of the Berkeley Community Advisory Commission (CEAC)
  • Recipient of Clean Air Champions Award from the San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Management District for Work on Air Pollution
  • Co-author, Berkeley Hazardous Waste Importation Regulation Act
  • Organizer of campaign that halted the siting of hazardous waste incinerators in the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Recipient, Special Award from the American Lung Association for work on Air Pollution
  • Certificate of Distinguished Contribution to the City and its Citizens, Berkeley, CA

1. Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan, Future Land Use Goal 2: "Maintain distinct land use categories that promote health, safety and welfare and minimize negative impacts posed by hazards, nuisances, incompatibility, and environmental degradation (p V1-226) to ensure compatibility with surrounding neighborhoods” including 'environmental systems and protection of habitats.'"
2. Comp Plan Environmental Goal 3 - "Meet or exceed applicable local, state and federal standards for air and water quality" (p V1-72)
3. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) World Health Organization Monographs 1997 Table 2.2 (p 370)
4.  IARC Monographs 1995 (pp 414,415)
5. Comp Plan Environmental Objective 1.1 - Identify, manage, and protect ecological communities and native habitats (p V1-61)

Opportunity Lost: Waste plant will disfigure the face of East Sarasota

To: The Sarasota County Planning Commission
From: Tom Matrullo
RE: Rezone 17-01 and SE 1765
May 21, 2017


“When there is no vision, the people perish.”

Sometimes opportunities creep up on you. They’re not easy to see, then -- Eureka!

Back in 2005, Sarasota County worked up a unique vision of a welcoming gateway at the Fruitville exchange on I-75.

KHA Business As Usual 1.jpeg.jpg
In 2010, that early sketch got fleshed out in a series of meetings, charrettes, and compromises. For a year, the stakeholders -- County staff, landowners, representatives of 3,400 homes in 20 neighborhoods, and the Polyzoides planning firm -- worked at it.

The Fruitville Initiative -- an innovative  vision of a mixed-use community based on a grid of walkable streets, preserving the rural character of East Sarasota while bringing a gateway feel with hotels, shops, offices, cafes -- was the collaborative result.

In 2014 the Initiative was formalized in a rezoning as Ordinance 2014-054. In addition to offering a means to satisfy the County’s need for a major employment center (MEC), the Initiative envisions an organic relation with the Celery Fields.

Please have a look at this image from the Polyzoides site:

The waterway is the northern cell of the Celery Field Preserve. It’s a delightful place to kayak - it can also be the basis for the kind of “Riverwalk” envisioned here.

This was an example of transformative planning.

Suddenly we’d have something special - not humdrum offices, trucking centers and big boxes, but walkable shaded streets, perhaps an Audubon-themed hotel, a museum that would recognize the legacy of East County from the days of Mastodons through the ranches and agricultural and social history of workers harvesting fields of celery.

fruitville-04 riverwalk.jpg

In short, a Destination. People would perceive Sarasota as a place savvy enough, sensible enough, not to look like every other place along I-75. Instead of Mobile and Cracker Barrel they’d see a community with its own flair; an inspired synergy with a fabulous natural setting at its doorstep.

A place like this would say in a sophisticated way, “Welcome to Sarasota: where we remember our legacy.”

The coming development of the Fruitville Initiative will open onto what has become a spectacular Sarasota success story -- a regional stormwater facility that is metamorphosing into an international birding and eco-tourist highlight.

audubon nature center .jpg

Sarasota Audubon’s report of its Nature Center’s opening season offers a good look at an auspicious first year.

So here’s the prospect we face:

The Fruitville Initiative will add enormous value to the area, and position itself and the Celery Fields as the face of East County. Coburn Road, running through the new Initiative sector, will continue down past Ackerman (changing its name to Apex) to East Palmer. At Palmer folks will either turn left to go to the Audubon Center, or right to go to the burgeoning Packinghouse District.

If Mr. Medred has his way, at this crossroads they will gape at a giant wall behind which will rise 35-foot piles of demolition debris and yard waste. They’ll listen to sonic booms of concrete being pulverized, diesel engines running constantly, and wait at the corner while trucks loaded with demolition debris enter and leave this key intersection of two already overburdened two-lane roads.

Twenty-seven years ago, I covered construction and development for the Herald Tribune. Nearly every month for a decade I was at the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, where Wayne Daltry and a very astute team examined developments of regional impact and did their best to give our region some of the order that even now makes it a magnet for people seeking a better quality of life than they can find elsewhere.

For the past 11 years I’ve been a member of the Bee Ridge Neighborhoods Committee. I learned from that very thoughtful group of citizens how constructive and open interaction with the County on major projects like the low impact improvement of East Bee Ridge Rd. can lead to win/win outcomes for all.

And in 2010 I attended some of those challenging meetings of the Fruitville Initiative stakeholders -- their efforts were generous, creative, and at times heroic.

Regarding Rezone 17-01 and SE 1765 I must tell you: I have never seen a plan so blatantly contemptuous of surrounding uses. Beyond seeking to change Open Use Rural (OUR) to ILW, it seeks a special exception to allow more intense industry than Major Employment Center (MEC) permits. Unworkable on a practical level, the plan manipulates the letter of the Code to violate the spirit of a wide range of policies, goals and objectives -- relating to traffic environment, health, economic development and more -- of our Comprehensive Plan, MuniCode, and LDRs.

Medred - ZOA No. 119 dump.jpg
Bo Medred offered this image at the Oct. 20, 2016 Planning Commission
hearing to illustrate a waste facility operating near homes.

This cynical scheme will drive a stake into the heart of an area that, properly stewarded, could bring Sarasota a recognition and lustre most communities would kill for. An endorsement will put in question whether common sense and rational planning have abandoned Sarasota County.

The Quad parcels -- which are still our public lands -- are open to many potentially promising uses. Marketed with patience and perseverance, the Quad will find the right opportunity to make it come to life. Nothing very fancy -- a combination of a market, a public garden, some art galleries, a daycare center, some community rooms for meetings, music, study. That, along with some offices and affordable housing within walking distance of the Packinghouse District and of SCAT’s bus station, would form the nucleus of an attractive neighborhood center. All it takes is some outreach and imagination to discover the local trends, the needs of the community and the opportunities to attract visitors.

The county first surplused the quad parcels in 1997, then did nothing with them for 18 years. During those years, everything changed. A new context -- with new economic synergies and long-range opportunities -- has emerged.

These opportunities are clear, mutually enhancing and far reaching. And easy to see. Just climb the mound at the Celery Fields and look out on the open face of East County.

With all due respect: don’t feed this promise into the pulverizing engines of a giant waste processing plant. Advise staff and our officials to work with Mr. Gabbert to find a site consistent with the values and goals of Sarasota County.

Many say the Celery Fields is our Central Park. Go there. Breathe the fresh air, look at the ponds and the light. It’s also the Siesta Beach of East County.

Thank you.

Tom Matrullo

celery fields pan.jpg