Friday, December 1, 2017

Why we want your ideas for the Quads

Sarasota's County Commission has given the Fresh Start Initiative a limited time to present community-based ideas for the next phase of public lands at the Celery Fields.

We are already receiving ideas from folks who understand that thoughtful, creative planning can generate a vibrant and unique area boasting the beauty of the Celery Fields, the urban fun of the Packinghouse Area, nearby kayaking, hiking, and the clean businesses in nearby business parks. A large recreational open space near the highway and within walking distance of cafes, shops, and markets -- what's not to like?

This unique combination is possible thanks to Palmer Boulevard's I-75 underpass that connects a burgeoning urban core with generous open spaces and wetlands.

We have six months to facilitate a process that would enable the community to come forward with ideas, proposals, outside-the-box thinking for the "Quad Parcels" at Apex and Palmer. The aim: to achieve a more integrated approach to the possibilities in this area, which will be the anteroom to East Sarasota County. The next major wave of residential and commercial development has to be East County: West County is running out of land.

For more on how to shape and share your proposal, see here.

Why Fresh Start is doing this

On August 23, 2017, after a 10-hour hearing featuring a packed house of citizens opposing the proposal, Sarasota's Board came within one vote of approving a 16-acre open-air demolition waste processing facility at the SW corner of Apex and Palmer.

Public documents show that the county's planning review for this proposal ignored current conditions and based its suitability assessment solely on 35-year-old land use designations. Nowhere in the review was it acknowledged that the proposed waste plant would be a short walk from an internationally beloved bird sanctuary and recreation area, and mere steps from the shops, restaurants, and businesses of the Packinghouse District. In short, the folks whom we pay to serve as stewards of our lands went out of their way neither to look at the surrounding area, nor to speak with the people who would be directly affected by their "stewardship."

Is this the best we can do in Sarasota County?

East County is poised to explode in a new wave of housing and commercial development. The question is, will East Sarasota simply be a mirror image of the urban service area to the west? If we work together, we can provide our elected officials with community-supported options for higher uses and better stewardship.

We have an opportunity to plan an area that respects inherent features, rural heritage, and full economic and environmental potential of a critical area in transition. But only if we act now.
With creative and commonsense ideas, a set of stranded assets can turn into a lovely integrated destination, uniting East and West, and prove a catalyst for the entire area. Think of the Palmer Underpass as a door -- a threshold from the urban core, where one can stroll from the Packinghouse District shops, restaurants, and music west of the highway through the underpass and out into the wide open East, with its water, trails, 220 species of birds, and giant Florida sky. 

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