Thursday, September 6, 2018

Two Reports: Fresh Start and Lambert

A land use consultant hired by Sarasota County to rezone a portion of public land near the Celery Fields sanctuary has recommended that the 7-acre parcel be sold to an industrial developer.

“In sum, the highest and best use of the subject property is considered to be for industrial development, with an estimate land evaluation of roughly $1.3 million; or, $3.40 per square foot,” writes Lambert Advisory LLC in its report to the county.
Note: On Wednesday, Sept. 12 at the County Commission, Fresh Start will present an analysis in support of a resolution to dedicate all three public parcels to public benefit. The estimated time is 9:30 a.m. Agenda.
Quad parcels at Apex & Palmer
Lambert filed the report on August 22, 2018. The Miami firm was hired by the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners on the premise that current budgetary shortfalls needed to be made up through the sale of public lands. Since that meeting, the Board has appeared to revise its estimate of the county’s financial plight. Commissioner Maio, who initiated the rezone decision, now says that the county coffers are full, its fiscal condition is solid, and there will be no shortfalls in 2019 or 2020.

The county agreed to pay Lambert $61,290 to rezone Parcel #3, at the Northeast quadrant of Apex Road and Palmer Boulevard. The analysis, called a “highest and best use” report, compares the parcel to existing properties in Sarasota for possible residential, retail, office, industrial or hotel uses.

Highest and best use” (HBU) is a method of assessing real estate that looks solely at monetary value. Other considerations of use value such as environmental, recreational, social or economic opportunities are specifically excluded in HBU studies.

A coalition of 50 neighborhoods which has sought to persuade the County to dedicate three parcels at the same intersection, including parcel 3, for community uses -- is concerned that the Lambert study could sway the five-member commission to approve the sale not only of the seven-acre parcel #3, but also to rezone parcel #2, 10.6 acres, for private industry.

”It’s like a chess game,” said Glenna Blomquist, a member of Fresh Start, the HOA coalition. “If the county accepts this report, it can proceed to rezone parcel three without even having identified a buyer."

Once the land is rezoned, any private developer whose industrial operation fits the zoning can buy the property and build without public input. Last year, a giant warehouse operation sought to purchase parcel #3, and hundreds of Sarasotans came out to oppose it at a public hearing.

“With the property already rezoned, an industrial developer whose proposed use fits within the new zoning would simply by-pass the community,” says Blomquist.

There’s a further danger lurking in this chess match, notes Gary Walsh, president of the Meadow Walk, the nearest community to the Celery Fields. After parcel #3 is rezoned to industry, developers can argue that parcel #2 should also be industrial, because at that point it will be enveloped by industrial zoning on three sides.

Parcel #2 is the 10.6-acre parcel which the Fresh Start group was charged by the Commission to find community-approved conceptual uses for. The group filed a report with those proposed uses in April, and at the Board's request, updated it in July.
“Developers seeking industry here have usually ignored the issue of compatibility, but now it could work in their favor,” adds Fresh Start’s Carlos Correa.

Here's how it could go:
Waechter warehouse
Just to the south of parcel 2 (separated by water and trees) are several warehouses owned by Robert Waechter, who has actively opposed Fresh Start’s efforts to have the County dedicate the land to community uses -- athletic fields, a restaurant or cafe, shops, affordable housing, meeting rooms, a historical museum exhibition space.

West of parcel #2 separated by trees is a six-acre parcel owned by James Gabbert, who plans a waste transfer station there. Gabbert last year proposed to put a giant waste processing facility on his six acres plus the 10.6 acres of parcel #2.

Hundreds of residents and visitors who value the Celery Fields turned out to the Aug. 23, 2017 hearing in vehement protest, and Gabbert’s petition met with defeat.

Fresh Start says it will be taking a closer look at data in the Lambert report -- figures used for land value, population growth estimates, traffic and more.

“Our analysis was completed before we saw the Lambert report, and takes a completely different approach” says Tom Matrullo of Fresh Start. “We begin by looking at the land itself, at the community with whom we've consulted, at market trends, and at potential synergies with neighborhoods, commerce, and eco-tourism -- the Celery Fields has been a place of respite from the Red Tide we've recently experienced along our coastline."

The basic question of land use goes beyond data to a more fundamental question: how does Sarasota County plan? Fresh Start puts it this way:

"On one hand, you have a corporate analysis that looks only at money, and by design ignores everything our residents care about; on the other, you have everything our residents care about: the environment, community resources, things for children to do, social and educative activities, clean air, recreation, healthy birds, manageable traffic, and the benefits of a thriving tourist area."

On Wednesday, Sept. 12 at the County Commission, Fresh Start will present an analysis in support of a resolution to dedicate all three public parcels to public benefit. The estimated time: 9:30 a.m. The public is welcome, but as this is not a hearing, public input will be limited to 3 minutes before or after the morning agenda, in the segment known as "Open to the Public."

Mt. Celery

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