Monday, January 29, 2018

RaceTrac at East Rd. -- Workshop Jan. 30

Letter from Steve Stottlemyer about a RaceTrac gas station proposed for East Rd. and Fruitville Rd.:


That’s Right!!!  Here they come again!!!  For those of you who may be new to east of I-75, in 2002, the Board of County Commission approved an ILW (Industrial Light Warehouse) rezoning on 35 acres located on the south side of Fruitville Road, just west of East Road.  In exchange for ILW zoning, the eight property owners at the time agreed to “Perpetual Covenants & Restrictions" in a Resolution to forever forbid certain commercial uses on the property, in lieu of preparing a Critical Area Plan (CAP) for this area. The restrictive covenants and agreements forbid the following:
"Restaurant, fast food restaurant, delicatessen, bar, or tavern for on premise consumption of alcohol, automotive service stations or truck stops and similar uses, Convenience stores, with or without the sale of fuel. General retail store for single occupant exceeding a minimum of 100,000 square feet of continuous floor area within a single building,"
The County Commission was adamant Fruitville Road, east of I-75, would not be stripped out with intensive commercial uses as was done on the west side of I-75. Think University Parkway.
Despite these restrictions, the current Owner Attorney Bill Saba who purchased out of foreclosure a portion of the 35 acres is back once again trying to create strip commercial development along Fruitville Road.  This time he is attempting to remove the “Perpetual Covenants & Restrictions” on just the corner parcel of Fruitville Road and East Road to put up a RaceTrac Gas Station.  A brief history of their previous shenanigans is as follows:

1. In 2013 as part of a Rezoning Petition No. 13-10 for a small parcel within the 35 acre Fruitville Industrial Park, Attorney Bill Merrill representing Saba tried to convince the Board of County Commissioners to remove the restrictive covenants and agreements with no public input, but the County Commission said no. 

2. In 2015 Attorney Bill Saba hired Attorney Bill Merrill and Land Planner Bo Medred (think Gabbert Transfer Station in the Celery Fields) to file Rezone Petition No. 15-11 to again attempt to remove these “Perpetual Covenants and Restrictions” restricting commercial uses the Owners had entered into with Sarasota County.   This petition was denied because the citizens of east County stood up and objected to the strip commercialization along Fruitville Road east of I-75 and because the Commission felt it should live up to County commitments. 

3. RaceTrac has employed Lawyers John Patterson and Michael Siegel of the Shutts & Bowen Law Firm to make this new attempt in spite of the fact that it was Nora Patterson, wife of John Patterson, who as a member of the County Commission, insisted on the restrictions in the 2002 rezoning.  

If Attorney Saba is successful this third time, other land owners will also request unrestricted commercial zoning on their properties. Citizens and property owners east of I-75 have managed to fight strip commercial east of I-75 on Fruitville Road for years.  And through the efforts of ever vigilante neighbors, we have been successful. But this type of strip commercial zoning will only continue moving east towards Lorraine Road. You and only you can make a difference.
Please take the time to show up at the scheduled neighborhood workshop on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 6:00 pm at the Shriners Sahib Temple located at 600 North Beneva Road and let Attorney Saba and RaceTrac know we citizens do not want strip commercial development on Fruitville Road.

RaceTrac filing here.

-- Steve Stottlemyer 941-724-4835.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Gabbert, Fresh Start, and Sarasota County Planning

Mr. Gabbert’s Construction Waste Debris Transfer Operation will be situated at Porter Rd. and Palmer Blvd., next to the I-75 underpass, and immediately adjacent to the proposed YMCA outdoor sports complex that was part of Fresh Start's proposal to the Board on 4.25.18. 

The sports fields are proposed for 10.7 acres of public land (SE corner of Apex/Palmer) which the community group feels is more suitable for uses compatible with exotic species of birds, wildlife, human recreation, children, narrow roads, and a new vision of the Celery Fields area, visible from the Interstate, as a beautiful gateway to East Sarasota.

Gabbert's Full Waste Transfer Plan is here

EPA Waste Transfer Station siting guide

Gabbert Waste Debris Transfer Operation
YMCA Outdoor Sports Fields
Add caption

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Expansion of Fitness Club - Workshop Today

A development corporation is requesting rezoning at Bath & Racquet for 4,5, and 9-story condos adding over 750 people and cars to the Trader Joe's intersection.

Thursday Jan 25th at 5 pm at Bath & Racquet - Community Workshop Your opportunity to hear what info the developer is releasing to the public, ask questions and voice your concerns.


Monday, January 22, 2018

Setback Concerns on Siesta

Hearing Jan. 30

The County Commission is holding a public hearing on January 30th after 1:30 PM on the proposed zoning code change. It will allow buildings up to 8 stories high to be ONLY 2 feet from the sidewalk! Our current codes allow buildings 35 feet high (3 stories) to be 2 feet from the sidewalk.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Three options for new FPL Power Line Routes East of I-75

FPL will build a new power line onto its grid by 2020 in East Sarasota. From 28 possible routes it began looking at, it's down to three. One goes right through the Quad parcels at Apex and Palmer Roads.

Information about the proposed 138kV lines was on display Tuesday evening at the Conference Center behind the Girl Scouts building on Catttlemen Rd. near Proctor Rd., Attendance was very low during the hour or more that I was there. It seems FPL contacted folks within 500' of the three proposed routes.

Each of the three possible routes connects the Howard substation at Proctor by I-75 with the Bobwhite station on East Fruitville Rd.

The reason for the new line is to bolster the East Sarasota County grid -- with developers from "the three ranches" -- Lakewood Ranch, Hi Hat Ranch and LT Ranch on East Clark Rd. -- planning tens of thousands more homes, FPL sees good reason to get ready for it now, its representatives noted.

All three routes
The three routes basically run along one of the three major West-East routes east of I-75:

Blue route

  • One marked in blue runs along Clark, then up through an existing easement through the Hi-Hat Ranch property, then west along Fruitville to Bobwhite:

Green route
  • A second in green runs up next to I-75 from Howard, then along Bee Ridge to the Bee Ridge Extension, jogs south and skirts residential communities before connecting to the north-south Hi Hat easement.

  • The third option, in yellow, shows the line going north alongside 75, then running along Palmer Blvd. East to Apex - splitting the Quad parcels - then north on Apex to Coburn to Fruitville where it turns east to Bobwhite.
Close up of line running along Palmer and up Apex Rd.

More photos here.

Asked why of 28 possible routes these were the three t"finalists," FPL reps spoke of costs, feasibility, easements etc.

The few who attended the event were invited to fill out small polling cards prioritizing what was most important to them. It would seem possible for FPL, an electric company, to poll and inform more widely and efficiently through electronic means.

Rae Dowling, area manager for FPL, said she'll be happy to field questions and hear from residents. Her email is, and office phone: 941 316-6266.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Help create an exciting area -- and protect the Celery Fields

Do you have thoughful ideas for the citizens' public lands near the Celery Fields?

The Fresh Start Initiative wants to hear from folks with the vision to see that sensible, creative planning can produce a uniquely vibrant urban/rural destination -- connecting the open spaces of the Celery Fields with the commerce and fun of the Packinghouse Area.

Where else can you find a 400-acre natural preserve within walking distance of cafes, shops, and markets, thanks to an I-75 underpass that connects a burgeoning urban core with wildlife, wetlands, and recreational opportunities?

Three publicly owned parcels form the intersection at Apex Rd. and Palmer Boulevard, just east of the highway and just west of the Celery Fields. The County has decided to sell parcel #3. For parcels #1 and #2, it's given Fresh Start six months to invite the community to come forward with ideas, proposals, outside-the-box thinking to achieve a more integrated approach to the possibilities in this area, the anteroom to East Sarasota County.

One idea for lands near the Celery Fields has already been noted in the Herald Tribune -- a visionary center where people could experience the natural and historical past through the potent new possibilities of virtual and augmented reality.

Fresh Start's search for viable ideas is open to all. We contend that community consideration of the relationships among neighboring public lands will yield a greater good than making random land use decisions in piecemeal isolation.

The effort here is to identify options that respect the inherent qualities of our public lands and integrate them with compatible, interesting, and economically stimulating uses in the surrounding area.

We are preparing community workshops in late March. If you have an idea or proposal please get in touch (see below). Fresh Start's role is to simply to facilitate these meetings. The community itself will choose the options it prefers, and we will bring them to the County Commission.

If you have some ideas to share, this is to let you know that Fresh Start is now gathering proposals. Please bear in mind that a basic proposal needs to specify at least a rough idea of land dimensions, the kinds and sizes of structures, the envisioned purpose, and ideas about funding. Considerations of impacts and planning will take into account
  • impacts on traffic on Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road;
  • compatibility with surrounding assets: the Celery Fields, Packinghouse area, homes and schools;
  • economic enhancement: employment, raising land values, etc.
Fresh Start is now gathering proposals. If you have an idea you would like the community to consider, we need to receive your proposal no later than March 1. Please send to

We look forward to hearing from you.

More about Fresh Start:

Monday, January 1, 2018

The sprawl tax

Sprawl stands in direct opposition to a fiscally conservative philosophy. - Cathy Antunes

The interest in snapping up Sarasota ranchland east of I-75 is reaching a feverish pitch. Which tells us that East County is up for grabs as long-term ranchers like the Turner family bid adieu to generations of rural life and cash in. Developers step up, pay premium prices, and build.

What's missing?

For one thing, while these developers are buying land and designing their "villages," no one is minding the public realm. Developers troop in, pay their filing fees, produce plans that violate core principles of Sarasota County's Comprehensive Plan, and what does the County do? Very little, apparently.

Citizens have just filed two lawsuits stating that key elements of the County's comprehensive plan, once upheld by staff, are being ignored.

Two quick observations:

Developers hate regs - they get in their way, cost money, and complicate their business models.

One way to ease their burden is to get rid of strong, competent planning staff. The county has seen several recent defections of key personnel -- most recently, Allen Parsons and Isaac Brownman who both moved to Longboat Key to work under former County Adminstrator Tom Harmer.

Paring staff saves money. Certain candidates proudly proclaim that they've not just not raised taxes, but that millage rates have been lowered from 2001 levels.

This magic comes at a cost of competence, of vigilance, of people paid to watch out for the public's right to orderly land management and custodianship.

If developers fail to plan well, they might save money up front, but the people will pay a "sprawl tax" down the road. Sprawl ultimately can cost taxpayers big time: development that is thoughtful, attractive and respectful of neighbors and surrounding lands will accrue value; sprawl, ugly and inefficient, leads to unsustainable blight, and a degradation of property value.

So those public officials who brag about their "fiscal conservatism" for not raising taxes** or imposing adequate impact fees are the real spendthrifts. As they cut taxes, lower impact fees and spurn rational plans, they are jeopardizing the beauty, feasibility, compatibility, and balanced provision for a large segment of our county. This repudiation of public custodial care has operated on a piecemeal basis for a while -- the notorious case of county planners and officials working quietly to locate a construction waste crushing facility near the tranquil, pristine Celery Fields bird sanctuary is well known to many.

Top: Celery Fields wetlands Bottom: Waste processing facility

East Sarasota county is poised for an explosion of mass housing development on a scale perhaps never before seen here. Ambitious plans already on file are vast, and more are coming.

If Sarasota fails to support staff tasked with enforcing its own planning law, the errors of West County will be repeated: East County development will not simply clone the traffic-burdened areas we have now within the Urban Service Boundary; it will ultimately burden taxpayers. Our wallets will have to deal with impacts stemming from bad plans. Impacts that developers will not be required to pay for.

Before voting this year, get to know where your candidates stand on planning, on impact fees, and on stewardship values -- the stakes for our future are enormous.

The sound of one advocacy group's hand clapping

Contributed to the Celery Fields Advisory Group by Emanuel Guzman

Thirteen months after opposition from the people of Sarasota blocked James Gabbert's proposed Waste Processing Facility on Parcel #2 of our public lands, Mr. Gabbert, a strong backer of Commissioner Maio, is back with a revised version of his Waste Transfer Facility, on 6 acres that he owns along the western edge of Parcel #2.

Simultaneously a Miami firm hired for $61,290 to assess parcel #3 for the "highest and best use" (a decision promoted by Commissioner Al Maio) has stated that the 7-acre parcel can realize a good price if it's rezoned to allow someone to put an 80,000 square foot industrial plant on it.

Meanwhile, a coalition of citizens called Fresh Start has worked since November 2017 to research alternative, community-recommended uses for the "Quad parcels."

They were specifically told not to contact the Miami consulting firm doing the assessment of parcel #3. This despite the fact that the consultant, Lambert Advisory LLC, was directed as part of its scope to come to an understanding of the community:

Over nine months (betwen 11.17 and 9.18), Fresh Start made three formal presentations to the Board: on April 25, July 11, and Sept. 12. Four community ideas, selected by residents, were presented. In that time, they have received no direction, no answers to questions such as: why would you impose industrial blight on an evolving natural ecosystem and recreation area with future economic potential for eco-tourism?

Robert Waechter, a politically connected developer and friend of Gabbert, owns warehouses (pictured left) next to parcel #2. Waechter recently told the Board that there are already so many trucks on Apex Road that the area would be too dangerous for community activities that involved children or tourist visitors. He advocates more dangerous and blighting industry on our public parcels. 

The effort to induce a dialog with the elected officials and planning staff of Sarasota County has yet to hear from the people who agreed to this collaborative dialog: The Board of Sarasota County Commissioners. Not one coherent sentence has been offered in explanation of their resistance to the sole Resolution Fresh Start advocated on Sept. !2:

Fresh Start has written to ask the County when the Board's response to all these proposals and questions and advocated Resolution will take place. We have been thanked with the hope that we have "enjoyed this exercise." 

Not quite, Commissioner Detert: People at the Celery Fields are exercising. We have been advocating. And in case you missed it, here is why:

Sarasota County, how hard is this decision? Ask yourself, how do you wish to be defined?  When it comes to the Celery Fields Area, are you this?

Dump on Fruitville created by James Gabbert

or this?

PAC Money, Dark Money in Sarasota FL

Astonishing half-hour talk by Cathy Antunes tracking the flow of large sums through interlinked PACs in Sarasota County, FL

Cathy Antunes on Dark Money in Sarasota Politics - anonymous PACs whose sole function is to funnel money into the campaigns of politicians who serve the interests of developers, builders, contractors. Antunes explores the relation of their interests to Charter Schools who spend 40% of their revenues on rent paid to real estate groups from whom they lease their school buildings.

At the center lies Eric Robinson, whose accounting firm channels money at the behest of big donors like Pat Neal, James Gabbert (waste plant at Celery Fields), Rex Jensen (Lakewood Ranch), Gary Kompothecras (Siesta Key), Benderson Development and Carlos Beruff. It also earns rather hefty fees for its "consulting" work, notes Antunes.

The money flows from these developers to PACs run by an elected official (Robinson is on the Sarasota County School Board) to Republican political campaigns. A former head of the Republican Party in Sarasota, Bob Waechter, is active in finding malleable candidates for the County Commission, School Board, Hospital Board, Charter Review Board and other races.

Fresh Start in 2018

The Fresh Start Initiative's early focus for the new year will involve small sessions seeking insight into how our community can achieve a higher order of planning in 2018 than we witnessed in 2017.

We want to hear from folks who care about sensible planning and about the Celery Fields -- how can we achieve a more integrated approach to the possibilities in this changing and complex area? The possibilities ought to intrigue anyone looking at the intensifying large scale trends in Sarasota County. More on this very soon.

Meanwhile, the Fresh Start Initiative was featured first in the Sarasota News Leader, and later in the Observer, and gained mention in the Herald Tribune's list of the 100 top stories of 2017.

The Sarasota News Leader also covered the two Board hearings that brought out many in the Community to resist proposals for a Restaurant Depot and the Waste Facility, listing these among its top 60 stories of this year. The News Leader's coverage continued with the county's agreement to work with Fresh Start as well as  later Board decisions on the parcels at Apex and Palmer in detail.

We're starting 2018 with fresh ideas to integrate vision, community, and common sense into shaping the Celery Fields area. Getting this right could encourage more thoughtful visioning for other areas of the county.

This is a community-based approach -- please join us.

What about Bob?

Robert Waechter is a major player in Sarasota County power politics. The articles below from 2013 published in the Sarasota News Leader point to his connections with Katherine Harris and Emmet Mitchell IV -- both of whom worked to limit voter registration and opportunity in Florida. 

They also describe the crime that has not prevented him from continuing to be a major influencer of decisions that affect Sarasota policy and politics.

Waechter owns several warehouses immediately south of public parcel #2 -- a 10-acre parcel that is owned by the Public, part of "The Quads" near the Celery Fields. He has consistently and persistently lobbied the Board to industrialize our public lands. He would love to see industry on our public lands.

His arguments include stating that the Celery Fields mound was a brown field so polluted that only industry was compatible with it.

He has also claimed that so many large trucks use Apex Road and Palmer Blvd. that the area is too dangerous for community uses like a playground or park.

The Board at times seems almost intimidated by Waechter. Here's a shot of his warehouses:

Waechter's "brown field"

Waechter has long had a determined interest in the Charter Review Board. He has tried to have it changed to an appointed, rather than elected Board. He's tried to have it meet ad hoc, rather than according to a public schedule.

Waechter at the Charter Review Board