Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Sarasota Board's "park-like setting" is a WTF

This photo was taken from I-75 near Palmer Boulevard, looking east. In the distance is the Celery Fields Mound. In the foreground is the six-acre site where James Gabbert will build a Waste Transfer Facility:

Site of Gabbert Waste Transfer Facility

The site is immediately next to the highway, bounded by thin, fragile Porter Road on the west, and equally narrow Palmer Blvd. on the North. In the distance is the gorgeous mound and wetland area of the Celery Fields, an internationally known bird habitat. A home or way-station to over 225 species of birds, this area is so prized by bird lovers, recreationalists and tourists that that the Audubon Society spent over $1 million to build a nature center there. 

Behind the row of trees lies a 10.6-acre parcel of public land, which Gabbert once wanted to buy to build a full-blown unenclosed waste processing facility. The citizens came out in August 2017 in droves to oppose that scheme, and the proposal was voted down (but supported by Commissioners Maio and Moran). But the six-acre waste transfer station - a facility that essentially serves as a temporary dump where waste is moved from small vehicles to large trucks - was approved by the County in 2015. Gabbert has revised his plan a number of times, and it is very close to getting final approval. Word is, that will come in February. 

Waste transfer operation at a facility 
designed and built, 
but no longer operated, 
by James Gabbert
Residents and highway motorists will soon be treated to the vision of mounds of construction debris being moved from small trucks to large a stone's throw from the highway.

In order for this to happen, the Board had to violate its own ordinance as well as a Federal law.

When the Board approved Gabbert's site rezone in 2015, it violated a county ordinance that specifically mandates that  lands running alongside this area of I-75 present a "park-like setting." Here is the law --  I-75 Corridor Plan #89-35, Exhibit B, Item M -- which states:
In recognition of I-75 as an area of critical concern, all critical area plans within the I-75 Critical Area of Concern shall be consistent with the following where applicable: 
       (m) a positive image for I-75 through the establishment of quality development within a park-like setting.
Further, the Board approved Gabbert's WTF in violation of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which among other things aimed to beautify highways by screening or forbidding junkyards:
The act called for control of outdoor advertising, including removal of certain types of signs, along the nation's growing Interstate Highway System and the existing federal-aid primary highway system. It also required certain junkyards along Interstate or primary highways to be removed or screened and encouraged scenic enhancement and roadside development.[2] Highway Beautification Act
Robert Waechter
How did this location ever get approved for a waste station in the first place? Gabbert and his pal Bob Waechter have financial and political clout. Both Gabbert (who is a developer, lender, and head of a local bank) and Waechter (who was once head of the Republican Party in Sarasota, and owns a group of run-down industrial warehouses immediately south of Gabbert's waste transfer site) are significant money-men behind key county commissioners. Commissioner Al Maio has held campaign strategy meetings in Gabbert's offices; Waechter has spent money viciously smearing Democrat and Republican candidates who ran against Maio, and was convicted of identity theft in an attempt to destroy a fellow Republican's reputation.

Despite (or because of) the dirty tricks, Waechter wields considerable political clout. As former head of the local Republican Party, he has participated in redrawing electoral districts to ensure Republican control of the Board of Commissioners, which appoints the Planning Commission. He is also closely involved with the Charter Review Board. His close associate, developer and waste king James Gabbert, has long been a member of that Board.

Waechter and Gabbert has worked diligently to put Al Maio and Mike Moran on the Board - and most recently have backed Christian Ziegler, who replaced the independent-minded Paul Caragiulo.

Small portion of Gabbert's contributions to Al Maio's 2014 campaign

A minor sample of Gabbert's contributions to Al Maio's 2018 campaign

Al Maio

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