Thursday, August 24, 2017

One or four things we learned at the Celery Fields Hearing

Update: Excellent, detailed report on the Board Hearing by Rachel Hackney in the Sarasota News Leader.*

The award-winning (and quite tall) attorney hired by James Gabbert to push through his waste proposal started the August 23rd hearing by reminding us all that emotion and sign waving do not count. Only the facts count, William Merrill III said.

One man's definition of "fact" is not another's.

In arguing to approve the Gabbert proposal, Commissioner Mike Moran kept using the phrase "fact-based." 
Moran had listened to 81 presentations from a wide spectrum of county residents, many of whom brought professional expertise -- environmentalists, wildlife managers, an epidemiologist, a pulmonologist, a city planner, a land use attorney certified in air pollution -- as well as daily, lived empirical experience of the area in question, its traffic, its road conditions, and so forth. 
Commissioner Moran dismissed all of this testimony from the public as not "fact-based." He failed to mention the Findings of Fact issued by the Planning Commission after it studied Gabbert's proposal in depth. Mr. Moran curiously seemed to find only the presentations of Mr. Gabbert and Bo Medred "fact-based." 
This despite the fact that not once did the applicant adduce independent scientific documentation in support of his repeated assurances that this 16-acre, unenclosed concrete-pulverizing waste plant would be noiseless, pure, and have no impact on traffic and roads.

Identifying facts requires one to pay attention

From the fresh-squeezed brainpan of Jacob Ogles:
TST Ventures officials said the facility would be state-of-the-art and generate minimal traffic or environmental disruption.
Neither Mr. Ogles, nor Commissioner Moran, nor anyone else seemed bothered by Mr. Gabbert's statement that he would be using virtually the same spray devices on his new, proposed dump which he used on the Bee Ridge Landfill that closed in 1998. You can only squeeze facts so far. State of what art, Mr. Ogles?

Bob Wachter doesn't own a Barcalounger.

Wachter spoke near the end of the hearing as is his custom, showed a map where he owns property. I'm the nearest property to the site and I'm not worried about this industrial waste facility, he said. Fearless Bob! Commissioner Detert called him back to the podium. "Is your property commercial or residential?" She asked, adding, "Is this where you have your Barcalounger and TV?"

"I don't have a Barcalounger," said Wachter, before concede the building was not his home, but rather, an industrial warehouse.
It has been noted that if Gabbert's dump were approved, other neighboring property would also seek special exceptions for heavier industrial uses. Wachter potentially stood to gain, rather than be impaired, by the Gabbert project.

It takes a village to avert the pillage.

The extraordinary defeat of an ill-suited use of our land, despite the near total silence of county planners, land use managers, parks officials, environmental specialists, tourism counselors, business leaders, economic analysts, etc. was a close call. It came about thanks to literally thousands of hours of work on the part of multiple teams of spirited citizens loosely joined in aim and determined to "not allow this injustice to occur," as one speaker said.
It will take a great deal of work to rebalance a beaten-down local bureaucracy that has for too long been bullied into doing what it's told to do, rather than doing the work we pay them for: independently assessing the facts and all the implications of land use plans. The system has lost sight of the Big Picture, the values and legacy that once informed Sarasota.
Fortunately, those values, that legacy, continue in the people of Sarasota County.

*An unformatted version of the report can be found here.


  1. Since the lead story on the news last night was about the PowerBall - if anyone won, please donate barcaloungers to all Celery Fields activists who are so deserving of rest! Eight months' sustained work is so laudable!

    1. Maybe! The million dollar Bay Area ticket was sold at a Publix in Sarasota located at 8300 Bee Ridge Road.

  2. It is sad that the Chamber of Commerce, Visit Sarasota, etc., which have a vested interest in the tourism generated by the Celery Fields, think they must remain silent... or fear to speak out. They should be the first to advocate for an expansion of the Celery Fields to enhance the tourism even further. Tourist amenities, civic uses, even a visitor center in this area (including the Packinghouse District), could be gentle uses that add vibrancy without intrusion or disruption to the area.