When Sarasota County last year bent over backwards to allow a plan for a 16-acre, open-air demolition waste processing plant to be considered for public lands near its famed Celery Fields preserve and recreation area, the community saw something. It saw blindness. Indifference. Refusal to actually plan, or care.
Why, with the new feature of a lovely natural preserve, new residential development, and other stranded amenities like Ackerman Park, did the County not seize the opportunity for a different kind of impact? Why didn't it direct planning staff to look at a new master plan for the entire Celery Fields Area? One compatible with the larger market forces making East Sarasota County the new hotspot for development, including the Fruitville Initiative?
A lot of people stood up in strong opposition to the Waste Plant. Ultimately last , the Board of County Commissioners voted down the proposed waste idea: 3-2. The close vote and evident absence of intent to optimize these public assets left some of us alarmed. There was no guarantee some other heavy industrial proposal wouldn't win Board approval, as no direction to staff accompanied the vote.
A group of residents and HOA leaders then formed the Fresh Start Initiative with the plan of providing community input for uses that would respect the environment and enhance the area. As the name implies, Fresh Start begins anew. We are gathering proposals, gaining community input, then holding a public workshop to gauge preferences. All of this is conceived as part of a larger conversation, an opportunity for community and County to openly explore Sarasota County's values and vision for the future. We chose to focus discussion around specific land uses proposed for these parcels. That way, questions of planning, policy, and vision would be grounded in an actual case study.
If this experiment interests you, there's plenty of material to look at on the Fresh Start blog and the Citizens for Sarasota blog. For a quick overview, start here (last paragraph links to info about proposals). We have received a rich variety of ideas and proposals from the community, which an Advisory Board will be reviewing shortly. Then on April 10, the community will participate in a roundtable workshop to vote for those deemed compatible, viable, and meaningful.
Of course we hope this experiment will issue in great ideas that enhance the Celery Fields area. But even more: We hope a good-faith dialog with the County will have lasting beneficial effects with respect to land use methods and decisions that will be critically significant for our future.
Thanks for your time.