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


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.


Adrien Lucas

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