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.
  
Sincerely,

Ardin Wilson
and
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?

Thanks.

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

References
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

Commissioners:



“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

​​

Sunday, May 21, 2017

East Palmer Road Traffic Stats


Coburn/ApexNBFruitville to Palmer3079
Coburn/ApexSBFruitville to Palmer3061
Palmer BlvdEBPackinghouse to Porter8975
Palmer BlvdWBPackinghouse to Porter8004


Friday, May 19, 2017

Public Land Use: Higher Burden of Proof

Letter to the Sarasota County Planning Commission:




Date: May 19, 2017

To: Planning Board Commission, County Administrator Harmer

From: Adrien Lucas

Re: Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility

Hello,

I am writing to you today in consideration of the upcoming Planning Commission meeting scheduled for June 1, where Mr. Medred will present a Rezone and Special Exception petition request for his client Mr. Gabbert for his proposed Waste Transfer/Recycling facility.

I have been immersed in County documents trying to learn how we got here and how is it that County Administrator Harmer made the determination to sell the county surplus “Quad” properties adjacent to the Celery Fields.  I will explain why I continue to be perplexed.

With all due respect and in consideration of how many documents are related to these properties I can understand how Mr. Harmer,  Planning Board members and the County Commissioners’ have a task that is almost impossible to stay on top of. However, it has become clear that the Planning Board and County Commissioners’ have been depending on and putting their trust in Sarasota Planning Staff and land use agents such as Mr. Medred. Both boards appear to not be vetting projects and performing true due diligence on projects related to development.  And I understand, because, I reiterate, the amount of papers and reading materials are abundant.  

However, the trust given to land use agents such as Mr. Medred has put our county in a predicament that should not have occurred with any of the county owned lands surrounding the Celery Fields. Beginning with the county surplus land sold to Randy Benderson for his failed trucking distribution facility adjacent to the North side of the Celery Field nor the four acres that were sold to Mr. Gabbert in 2015.  Neither of these properties owned by the county should have ever been sold.  I will explain below and I hope you all take the time to read this letter, however, if you choose not to read this, at least the content will be in public records for future use.

Had Mr. Harmer taken the time to read any of the reports provided by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB), I’d like to believe that Mr. Harmer would have refrained from putting us in the situation that now exists. County stakeholders, such as myself, and hundreds, if not, thousands of county stakeholders repand tourists who visit Sarasota strictly for its incredible eco-tourism opportunities are disgusted by what is turning out to be one of the largest eco-blunders, tourist-blunders and neighborhood-blunders that the county has gotten itself into by relying on people such as Mr. Medred, who (I must admit) is talented at manipulating and distorting Sarasota’s Comprehensive Plan, Land Use Designations and Zoning Codes.

Reports from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin begin in 2011 and are necessary to comply with annual monitoring requirements from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) related to ACOE Permit SAJ-1994-04745 for the Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility.  I am not sure if the requirements by the ACOE have all been met, I have a request to Sarasota Public Records for numerous documents in relation to this permit. I recommend that you all peruse the VHB reports. These reports may assist you in arriving to the correct determination that the Celery Fields Stormwater Facility is a fragile eco-system set-up to deal with the burdens that it was built for, not additional burdens that resemble “heavy industry” as Mr. Medred tries with his fableist reporting.

There are many reports from VHB on the Celery Fields, I am awaiting information on all of the costs associated with these reports. However, I can share, the latest report from VHB, dated September 16, 2016 cost Sarasota County $20,125; this report appears to be the thinnest, other reports from past years are voluminous. A cautious estimate of $20K per report from 2011 - 2016 is approximately $120K and I believe I am lowballing the cost estimates associated with the these reports.

County stakeholders again pay for consulting fees for reports that are never used as valuable resource material by county staff.  Why?  Because you are depending on Mr. Medred to dictate the future of the county and you are trusting him to be truthful in his presentations for the clients he represents.  When, in fact, the “Medred’s” and his ilk are providing misleading facts in their narratives that they submit for their clients.

Which leads me to the latest Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility Integrated Management Plan dated September 16, 2016, prepared for the Sarasota County Government Public Utilities Stormwater Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources by consulting firm VHB (Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.)

Source: Click HERE, remember this report cost the county $20,125.00.

Page 18 of 28, Challenges and Opportunities, Improving the Facility to Accommodate Users and More Wildlife:
Potential future improvements could include additional parking and a designated school bus drop-off point that does not affect other uses of the CFRSF and Audubon Nature Center.

My Suggestion: what about that Quad Property that almost went to Restaurant Depot?  It’s a win-win location, next to the future firehouse.  Talk about children being safe!  What criminal in their right mind would attempt anything nefarious with a firehouse next to that parcel?  Hey, if Bo Medred can present stretches of scenarios of “what ifs” for his clients, all is fair in imagination.

Page 19 of 28, Expanding Environmental Education Opportunities:

There also exists potential challenges to maximizing public use for recreation and environmental education. As the site’s popularity and diversity of public uses continue to increase, it will be important to manage the conflicts for different human users by both location and time. This will be critical to maintaining the facilities and natural areas in a desirable condition for humans and wildlife, and managing the conflicts between human uses.

My Opinion: Indeed.  It is “Critical” that we get this right for everyone.  The site’s “popularity” will not continue to grow with a dump in viewing distance of “Celery Mountain.” Wildlife will not thrive with the introduction of a dump and more trucking/vehicle obstacles to dodge. Stakeholders who live in the Celery Field area, stakeholders who live on or near the Phillippi Creek, stakeholders who live on or near Robert’s Bay, stakeholders who live on or near the Gulf of Mexico, stakeholders who work in the Sarasota County tourism industry, the children of Sarasota County who go to Tatum Ridge School and children who are fortunate to have educational eco-experiences at the Celery Field, local business stakeholders within the Celery Field neighborhood.  It is critical that our county follow Sarasota’s Zoning Mission Statement: Zoning’s Fundamental Purpose is to Protect a Community’s Health, Safety and Welfare.

And finally, the super-sized pièce de résistance.

Page 19, of 28, Coordinating with Other Adjacent Land Uses to Maximize Facility Benefits.

Future opportunities exist to improve the CFRSF through a complete integration with future development and infrastructure improvements in adjacent private properties and County-owned and managed parcels.

One such opportunity, called the Fruitville Initiative, exists just to the north of the CFRSF and is currently being evaluated, planned, and designed. The Fruitville Initiative is a public-private partnership to develop a coordinated plan for the development of lands north and south of Fruitville Road and immediately east of Interstate 75. The intent of the Initiative is for the County to encourage a preferred development outcome for six properties within the boundaries of a Special Planning Area in the Future Land Use Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan.

Other activities that directly improve the CFRSF could also be implemented to the mutual benefit of adjacent land uses and CFRSF functions. The effects of future infrastructure improvements should consider the importance of essential functions and other benefits of the facility and will include other CFRSF stakeholders for review and comment.

My Opinion: It appears the county’s costly investment in developing the Fruitville Initiative is dead, is this true? This report is encouraging integration of the county-owned parcels a.k.a. The “Quad” properties. Will you include other CFRSF stakeholders in these discussions or is this only a subject that Mr. Medred gets to speak to?
I watched the past April 20, 2017 Planning Commission meeting and it was with hope during “Commission Reports, Item No. 5 (Click here to View) to witness all of you discuss that the commission needs to stop trying to resolve applicant issues and that applicants need to thoroughly vet their applications before they get to the Planning Commission meetings.  

Of course the county needs to review development applications, but the burden of proof should have a higher threshold for land use agents, considering how many special exceptions and zoning changes Mr. Medred appears to be pushing through effortlessly.  This may help alleviate the burden placed upon county staff of what only appears as accommodating the applicant in hopes of satisfying Mr. Harmer’s encouragement of selling county property.  

When viewing past Planning Commission meetings and BOCC meetings (and trust me, I have watched hours of these meetings), there is an appearance of county staff, land use agents and county attorneys as all working under one roof and they don’t.  We, your constituents are the true stakeholders of the Celery Field Stormwater Facility and the Quad properties, not Mr. Medred, not Attorney Bailey.  And Mr. Gabbert is only one stakeholder of four acres adjacent to the C.F. due to no one in the county reading any of the expensive reports we spend a lot of money on.  

Had county staff had the time to read the read these fine reports from VHB, perhaps, just maybe, we wouldn’t be where are today.

I respectfully ask all of you to just Google “Celery Fields” and other keywords related to CF, there is a wealth of supporting empirical evidence that discounts any of Bo Medred’s claims for his client Mr. Gabbert.

We, the people of Sarasota County, are stakeholders too.  We ask that the Planning Commission study Mr. Medred’s request carefully for his client, Mr. Gabbert.  We put our trust in you to make the best decision for all of the people in Sarasota, not just for the Medreds of the county.

Respectfully,

Adrien Lucas

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Tale of a Timeline: Bo Medred, Sarasota, and "Dirty Things"

Here is a photo of one of Sarasota County's most extraordinary natural preserves, the Celery Fields:

View from the Observation Mound of the Celery Fields, Sarasota, FL

Here is a photo of a waste processing facility like the one Sarasota County is considering permitting to be built next to the Celery Fields:

Aerial: WCA Waste Processing - built, later sold, by James Gabbert

See it again? Celery Fields:

Celery Fields stormwater system, recreation area and bird sanctuary
Demo waste:
WCA facility at 8001 Fruitville Rd.

How is it that Sarasota County would even consider allowing an unenclosed 15-acre industrial waste processing plant right next to a beloved park-preserve, international bird sanctuary, and Audubon Nature center?

Meet Bo Medred and James Gabbert.

Bo Medred, left, James Gabbert

Bo Medred is a former Sarasota County planner who now operates as an independent agent. His job often calls for him to persuade the County to modify land use plans for developers. He must be good at it, because he seems to always be representing various developer interests before the County.

We -- Sarasota County taxpayers -- own 10.6 acres at Apex and E. Palmer, which the County declared to be surplus land in 1997, but didn't market for 18 years.

In 2016, Mr. Gabbert hired Bo Medred to persuade the County both to sell him our public land and to allow a special exception for heavy industry on the acreage, which currently is not zoned for industry. These public lands are currently zoned OUR - Open Use Rural -- good for protecting native habitats.

How did we get here?


More about the land use question below. First, a bit of the curious backstory to this decision the County will soon face. It's full of twists and turns, including prior efforts by Mr. Gabbert and Bo Medred to build a waste transfer station and a waste processing plant on Cattlemen Rd.

2014

In 2014, Bo Medred was hired by James Gabbert to change a land use designation on Cattlemen Rd. The plan: put a waste transfer station and Recycling Facility on a 7-acre site north of East Palmer Blvd. on Cattlemen Rd. The industrial application, which required a special exception, met with strong opposition from area businesses that foresaw a dust storm of pulverized concrete and yard waste being blown onto their property.
  • Jan. 2015 - BCC Action: The application is denied by the Board of County Commissioners (BCC).
Mr. Gabbert, who had purchased the Cattlemen site in June 2013 for $625,000, sold it in January 2015 for $1.8 million. Those who opposed him reportedly were told that he would look at sites east of I-75 to realize his plan of a waste transfer/processing facility.

It is worth noting that Mr. Gabbert was no newcomer to planning, building, and operating waste processing facilities. Prior to 2005, when he sold them for $35 million, he had for years operated at least four facilities around the county, including one at 8001 Fruitville Rd. that WCA currently operates.

WCA waste processing facility at
8001 Fruitville Rd. built by James Gabbert


2015


Mr. Gabbert next decided upon a site just East of I-75 on Palmer Blvd. It was 4.5 acres in private hands on Porter Rd. and E. Palmer Blvd., next to a 10.6-acre parcel owned by the County.

July 24, 2015 - Bo Medred held a neighborhood workshop at Mr. Gabbert's offices to describe Mr. Gabbert's plan to build and operate a Waste Transfer Station on a 4.5-acre site he proposed to buy at Porter Rd. and East Palmer Blvd. The petitioners stated that the aim was to operate a waste transfer station, not a waste processing plant.
Note: A Waste Transfer Station is a site where demolition and yard waste is brought in via small trucks, sorted in piles, then put on large trucks to be taken either to a waste processing facility or to a landfill. No grinding or crushing of concrete or other construction materials takes place. Guide to Planning and Siting a Waste Transfer Station.
All day, trucks carry demolition and yard waste in and out of Waste Transfer stations. For that reason Medred and Gabbert's plan was opposed by owners of nearby businesses who indicated concern that the activity would create traffic blockages at the tight intersection of Porter and East Palmer, right next to the I-75 underpass. They also mentioned such an operation could both be unsightly and damage property values.
  • Aug. 20, 2015 - Bo Medred and James Gabbert came before the Sarasota County Planning Commission seeking a Special Exception to allow a waste transfer facility on a 4.5-acre site at Porter and East Palmer. (The site had been rezoned ILW in 1992.) At the hearing, owners of nearby businesses raised traffic issues as well as the fact that it would be visible from the highway. Bob Waechter, Medred and Gabbert claimed the facility would not add to traffic.
  • Board Action: The Planning Commission APPROVED the petition. (VIDEO)
Bo Medred then took the petition to the BCC for final approval.
  • Oct. 14, 2015 - BCC hearing on petition for waste transfer on 4-acres.
  • Opponents said the facility would block traffic (big trucks on Porter and Apex) and negatively affect real estate value in the area.
  • Neighbors indicated they would oppose any waste processing or "recycling" -- (perhaps they knew Mr. Gabbert had applied for to operate a waste processing facility in 2014 on Cattlemen). Neither Mr. Gabbert nor Bo Medred said anything about the adjacent 10.6-acre site at the SW corner of Apex and Palmer.
  • Mr. Gabbert and Bo Medred repeatedly assured the Board and neighbors that the waste station would not create noise or dust from processing demolition debris or yard waste.
  • Bob Waechter spoke in support of Mr. Gabbert's waste transfer facility. He said it would have a nice wall that would make nearby business properties look unattractive by comparison.
  • No testimony from an expert on waste transfer stations was cited or offered as evidence.
BCC Action: The Sarasota County Commission APPROVED Mr. Gabbert's plan for a waste transfer facility at East Palmer and Porter Rd.: Resolution No. 2015-203 and Special Exemption No. 1739. (VIDEO)

Mr. Gabbert now completed purchase of the 4.5 acres, and began clearing the land. He also bought a strip from Porter to Apex that runs along the southern edge both of the 4.5-acre parcel he just bought, and the 10.6-acre parcel next to it, which he as of yet has no ownership interest in. That parcel is never mentioned in the waste transfer station hearings.

April 2015 - County puts 10.6 acres of Public Lands at SW corner of Apex Rd. and E. Palmer out to bid. No bid meets the county's minimum bid requirement of $1.75 million.

December 2015 - County puts same the public land, SW corner of Apex and Palmer, out to bid again.
When did Mr. Medred know that the County intended to market this property? Did he inquire about it before he and Mr. Gabbert successfully applied to develop the 4.5-acre site next to it?
2016

February 2016 - Two bids are received for the 10.6-acre parcel at the SW quadrant of Apex Rd. and E. Palmer Blvd. One from Mr. Gabbert (TST Ventures LLC), the other from Restaurant Depot (JDMH). Gabbert's bid was entered subject to a rezoning.

March 22, 2016 - BCC Hearing to decide which bidder to select.  Staff recommends going with Restaurant Depot; Board hems and haws. Due to a stormwater condition, the County is advised by County Attorney of a state statutory rule not to proceed with bids. The Board agrees not to proceed with bids and to issue an Invitation to Negotiate for the same property. VIDEO.

Outlined in red: The SW quadrant of Apex Rd. and E. Palmer Blvd.
April 11, 2016 - Sarasota County issued an Invitation to Negotiate for the sale and development of the 10.6-acre parcel at the Southwest Corner of Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road - the property adjoining the 4.5-acre parcel Mr. Gabbert purchased in 2015. The minimum acceptable bid is set at $1.75 million for the 10.6 acres. This site, zoned OUR, had been on the county's surplus lands list since 1997, but had not been offered for sale until 2015.

The Invitation To Negotiate specifies certain economic objectives it will look for in bidders:

  • Interested parties that can demonstrate the ability to develop the Property in a manner that works well with this location are encouraged to respond.
  • Any proposed development should provide measurable economic development impact on the community.
  • Economic Development: Respondent must substantiate project’s ability to demonstrate a positive effect on the County’s economy, job opportunities, function of building design and usage with neighboring uses to create sustainable economic development.


The County received only one bid on the public land -- from Mr. Gabbert -- for a waste processing plant that he said might employ 10.

What was Mr. Gabbert proposing? An unenclosed 15-acre waste processing plant was strictly forbidden by County Ordinance, which required 35 acres to buffer such facilities. His bid offered a violation of County law. Its acceptance would depend on a series of accommodations: a change to County law as well, a successful rezoning and special exception, at the very least.

BCC Action:

June 21, 2016 Nonetheless, staff recommended County Commission direct County Administrator to negotiate a contract for sale with TST Ventures and bring back to the Board on the July 12, 2016 consent agenda for Board’s consideration. VIDEO

Note: When an item is on the "Consent Agenda," it will often be lumped in with several other plans, proposals, or similar matters. The Board can choose simply to silently approve the entire basket of ordinances, resolutions, etc. with a single vote.

This is exactly what happened with Mr. Gabbert's proposal to buy the SW Quad parcel in July 2016:

BCC Action:
  • July 12, 2016 - BCC ADOPTED Resolution No. 2016-120, authorizing execution of Contract No. 2016-374, a Contract for Sale and Purchase with TST Ventures, LLC, for the sale of approximately 10.6 acres at the southwest corner of Apex Rd. and E. Palmer Blvd. in the amount of $1.8 million. The Board action and vote is taken without any discussion. It was APPROVED 5-0 as part of a Consent Agenda (Item #29 under Public Works). VIDEO
At this point, Mr. Gabbert had an authorized contract to purchase the 10.6-acres of public land near the Celery Fields, but it was against the law to put a Waste Processing Plant on it. A county ordinance required that Waste Processing Plants have 35 acres of land to operate without nuisance to surrounding properties, and must be enclosed. Mr. Gabbert's vision of an unenclosed, 15-acre waste dump would appear to be disqualified. But, no:

Ordinance? We don't need no stinking ordinance...

In October, 2016, Bo Medred asked the County to change its law and standards to accommodate Mr. Gabbert's desire to put a Waste Processing Plant at Apex Rd. and E. Palmer Blvd., next to the Celery Fields.
  • Oct 20, 2016 - Bo Medred proposes new standards to reduce the number of acres required for unenclosed Waste Processing from 35 acres to 15 acres. Ordinance No. 2016-082, approving Zoning Ordinance Amendment No. 119. 
  • Jack Bispham, chair of the Planning Commission, recused himself from the proceeding. Bispham is the brother-in- law of Mr. Gabbert.
  • No information or testimony from an expert on Waste Processing was cited or offered by county staff or a commissioner.
Bo Medred's proposed amendment to the County's law and standards begins with Donna Thompson of County Real Estate at about 2:08 hrs. (That single segment can also be viewed here.)

Planning Commission Hearing Oct 20, 2016 on Ord. 2016-084, Amend.119

  • During the PC hearing (at 2:32), Bo Medred displayed this photo of a dump in Buffalo NY to illustrate his argument as to why this 15-acre model is perfectly suitable for residential areas of Sarasota County. People's homes visible behind the piles of waste: 
Medred displayed this photo of a Waste Processing Facility on 15 acres in Buffalo NY
to the Planning Commission.

If nothing else, see the exchange around 2:33 between Planning Commissioner Laura Benson and Bo Medred:
Benson: (referencing the Buffalo illustration):  Those pictures were big dirty things.
Bo Medred: That's a . . . that's a . . . that's an opinion. 
See also the exchange with Commissioner Jack Hawkins concerning the noise levels of concrete and asphalt crushing operations that begins about 2 hrs. and 39 minutes. No staff or Commissioner put into evidence any documents about the potential problems and issues with siting a waste processing facility. No accredited expert was invited to testify as to siting, pollution, noise, or other impacts upon residences.

Planning Board ACTION:

Oct. 20, 2016 - The Planning Commission APPROVED the amendment by a vote of 6-0 (Bispham recused hmself) as a Special Exception use to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, as Bo Medred recommended.  VIDEO

With the blessing of the Planning Commission, Bo Medred moved on, taking the proposed amendment to the Sarasota Board of County Commissions in December.

BCC ACTION:

Dec. 14, 2016: In a public hearing, BCC ADOPTS Ordinance Ordinance No. 2016-082, approving Medred's new standards (Zoning Ordinance Amendment No. 119).

  1. Public hearing to consider proposed Ordinance No. 2016-082, approving Zoning Ordinance Amendment No. 119. The amendment changes the required acreage for unenclosed recycling and waste processing facilities from 35 acres to 15 acres for Type B, C, and D fill in the IR (Industrial and Research) and the ILW (Industrial, Light Warehousing) zone districts.
  2. (Not a public hearing.) Land Development Regulation Commission (LDRC) to find proposed Ordinance No. 2016-082 to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. (Must be done prior to the adoption of A).
  3. BOCC acting as the “LDRC” APPROVE Ordinance No. 2016-082 to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.
  4. BOCC acting as BOCC ADOPTS Ordinance No. 2016-082, 5-0 vote. VIDEO.

Thanks to the persuasive magic of Bo Medred, a key legal obstacle to building a 15-acre waste processing plant next to the Celery Fields has been removed. Mr. Gabbert has stated that he has operated five such plants over the years, but this 15-acre plant would be the largest he's ever operated.

(To see the facility as 15 acres, however, one has to somehow erase from existence the 4.5 acre waste transfer station, right? Has anyone done the math???)

2017 . . .


In January of 2017, Bo Medred presented the proposal for Mr. Gabbert's Waste Processing Facility at the Celery Fields at two Neighborhood Workshops. The first, on Jan. 5, 2017, had maybe 75 attendees. The second, on Jan. 30, 2017, overflowed the meeting area at the Church of Hope. An estimated 250 people attended that meeting. Virtually everyone who spoke was against siting this facility at the Celery Fields.

Many said they had nothing against Mr. Gabbert or against a facility of this kind somewhere in the County. Everyone said the chosen location -- at a busy intersection of two undersized roads that are already heavily below par -- next to an international tourist destination and fragile bird ecosystem -- likely to drive down property values and endanger the quality of life of birds, schoolchildren, businesses and residents -- was simply the wrong location.
Bo Medred and Mr. Gabbert at Jan. 30, 2017 Neighborhood Workshop

A court reporter made a complete transcript of the 2nd Neighborhood workshop.

Despite sturdy opposition from businesses, residents, Audubon, Sierra Club, and many individual citizens, Mr. Medred submitted Mr. Gabbert's proposal to the Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission has set a public hearing to begin at 5 p.m. June 1 at the County Administration building, 1616 Ringling Blvd. A brief gathering will be held outside the building at 4 pm.




The Planning Commission hearing is quasi-judicial. Those who speak do so under oath. Falsifiers of fact may be charged with Perjury. Bo Medred and Mr. Gabbert will present, a county staff person will offer county comments. The public will have time to speak, the petitioners will rebut, and the Commission will discuss and take a vote.

Regardless of how the Planning Commissioners decide, Mr. Gabbert's proposal will go to the Board of County Commissioners for a final decision, at a date to be determined. Even then, any decision is subject to appeal, and could end up in court.

It ain't over till it's over.

When it's all over, 
will we have this:




or this:




The saga of Bo Medred and James Gabbert is ongoing, and will be followed here. Please share with those you know who care.
This information was researched and compiled solely with the use of public documents through the volunteer efforts of citizens genuinely concerned about the future of Sarasota County.