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.
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.
William C. Zoller
6375 McKown Road