Monday, July 15, 2019

Lucas: A legacy for Sarasota


To: County Commissioner Charles Hines
cc: SRQ County Commissioners Maio, Moran, Ziegler and Detert
cc: SRQ Affordable Housing Advisory Committee
cc: Facebook Celery Fields Group, SRQ Citizens for Sarasota, Personal Facebook Page

From: Adrien Lucas
Re: Board decision approving affordable housing on parcel #2 by July 22 / Chronic Sewage Dumps into the Sarasota Gulf waters
Commissioner Hines,
I began this email a few weeks ago when I read an article published by the Sarasota News Leader regarding the County Commission board’s latest absurd affordable housing proposal to be plopped down on Quad Property Parcel #2 adjacent to the Celery Fields. I continue to be fuming angry and I am also very frustrated that I am not living in Sarasota full time because I would, again, devote any free time, to fight the BOCC's proposal for putting affordable housing on Parcel #2. 


Before I begin, I want to stress that affordable housing, even if the Celery Fields were not adjacent to the quad property you have suggested for affordable housing, is no gift to people who are in real need of affordable housing.
The road that you propose this project on has a grade rating that is as close to failure as it gets. With Mr. Gabbert’s waste transfer facility, along with other industrial trucking in the area, placing affordable homes on a street that is never going to be widened, improved or having traffic thinned out, is about the biggest insult you can gift the poor or working middle to lower class. Oh yes, let’s put these poor people on a road that is dangerous and heavily trafficked with semis. What a blessing that our children can play outside next to these traffic jams and semi exhaust fumes. Seriously, shame on you.  This quad parcel is not a place for healthy living.
Time and time again, you all ignore what the public has asked, begged, written, tons of personal time spent trying to show you what these quads could do by way of enhancing the area and complimenting what already exists, to have a Quad Property back on the agenda, especially for affordable housing, illustrates how self serving politicians are. I digress.

I will be sharing Commissioner Hines' affordable housing proposal for Quad #2, coupled with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast’s attempt to acquire acreage adjacent to the Celery Fields. It's sad that the evidence is so brightly shining regarding what the Celery Field Quads and local area can be, however, none of you are capable of seeing a Golden Nugget that exists as is and will take very little effort on your part to do what your constituents and people around the world have asked all of you and your predecessors in loud community abundance.  FOLD THE CELERY FIELD QUAD PROPERTIES into the existing Celery Field storm water management lands and designate them as parkland.

If the County Commission had enforced the numerous "affordable housing" constructs they created for the top developers (who clearly run the county) then this flimsy discussion regarding selling surplus county owned land for affordable housing would not be a discussion.

Al Maio
If Commissioner Hines were truly concerned about affordable housing then he would have addressed this issue years ago when it became very clear that the Developers were ignoring any concessions they had agreed to commit to for affordable housing. Instead Commissioner Hines, you rolled over every time Christine Robinson raised an eyebrow and you folded every time. Same with you, Commissioner Maio.

Commissioner Hines clearly wants to leave some kind of redeeming legacy because he has acquiesced to every Benderson, Neil, Gabbert (etc.) request and he has never ever made the developers follow anything they had said they would do regarding affordable housing for their Sarasota developments.

Shame on you Commissioner Hines and shame on the rest of you for acting like sheep and agreeing that Parcel 2 is just a dazzling piece of property for affordable housing. It is so unctuous to think that Mr. Neal or Mr. Benderson continue to skate on by with county corporate welfare and you all think you are going to save the day by building affordable housing units on a crappy street that has D grade for its quality with large trucks now zooming up and down from Gabbert’s little stinkin’ waste transfer sty, zoned light industrial, with all of you refusing to change zoning and now all of a sudden it’s paradise for the poor?  Puh’leeze. Shame on all of you. This presents as the biggest insult to every person who has contacted you to consider saving the Celery Fields Quad properties and the communities who have grown and flourished in that area. You all are failing the people who live out there.



This is not representation. Between redistricting, ignoring amendments voted in by Sarasota constituents and now this, you, the Commission, act solely based upon any self serving whim that strikes your fancy. I bet an email inquiry to public records will show how little county citizens are emailing Commissioner Detert telling her the Celery Quads should be developed into affordable housing/apartments.  I bet the emails that all of you are receiving regarding the Quad properties demonstrate majority opposition to developing or selling the Quad properties will outweigh affordable housing email.
As for the Housing Affordability Initiative you all passed on November 28, 2018, seriously, this is the best scheme you can come with? And while I appreciate the members on the board trying to address this serious issue of affordability in the county, the boards should be preparing a lawsuit against Benderson, Neal and any other developer who has failed to honor the contracts they created with the county regarding affordable housing.

The Celery Field Quads are not and should not be considered for affordable housing. It is not an appropriate place for housing. Period. 

Furthermore, I end this with the chronic sewage spill catastrophes that keep occuring. You are all responsible for maintaining the safety of our county and have failed us for decades. None of you do the county any favors when it comes to public relations. Your focus should be on preserving existing nature because the future of our beaches does not bode hopeful. People will be coming in land to experience nature in the future. Wake up, climate change is real, red tide will continue to grow as will this flesh eating bacteria because these “natural occurring” dangerous issues thrive in warm waters  and are exacerbated by man. It is as if the county is giving a free lunch of poo flushes on a regular basis to these awful things that exist in the gulf, so please turn your attention to infrastructure and having the developers really kick in monetarily what is needed for all their new building sprawl. 

Mr. Hines, you all want to leave a legacy for Sarasota? Then please, help clean it up and make the developers build affordable housing in a place, other than the Quad parcel, where parents, children and the working class will be safe.
Respectfully,
Adrien Lucas

Friday, July 12, 2019

RAM Returns Oct. 12-13 - Great Volunteer Opportunity

To help make the October 12-13, 2019 RAM weekend at MTC a success, register at ramusa.org or, for more information, 
call 941-526-4766.




























Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Effects of degraded wastewater facilities in Sarasota


Over the past three years, the county’s utility has spilled more than 800-million gallons of wastewater into Cowpen Slough, Phillippi Creek, Roberts Bay and Sarasota Bay. The water comes from the county’s storage tank and storing pond adjacent to the Bee Ridge Reclamation Facility.

County officials admit they are aware of the discharges. They’ve known they needed to increase wastewater treatment capacity since 2013, but have failed to do so. They could face fines up to $55,000 per day. -- Fix Florida's Wastewater Infrastructure - Caroline Smith, guest column, Herald Tribune 

More on the overflows, spills, and failure of Sarasota's wastewater treatment facilities and on the science of Red Tide and blue-green algae here and here.

WGCU - the NPR station in Fort Myers - has a special report on possible connections between Blue-Green Algae and neurodegenerative disorders. Listen to the report here.

Nutrient pollution from agricultural and urban runoff, as well as from leaky septic tanks and sewer lines, causes the majority of freshwater cyanobacteria blooms, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. TBT

For an editorial on the systemic neglect of public infrastructure, go here.



Sarasota County Planning Commission

Board of Sarasota County Commissioners


Bee Ridge Wastewater Treatment Plant 


Sarasota wastewater treatment plant's nitrogen-rich overflow pond



Friday, July 5, 2019

Redistricting Questions still unanswered

Despite no legal requirement to do so, the Sarasota County Commissioners have been seriously considering performing a redistricting of their 5 districts in advance of the 2020 election. This has raised concern among advocates for Single District Voting -- a measure passed by voters of both parties in all districts last November. Seeing no reason to redistrict, some fear this will enable the Board to select its voters in order to help assure the reelection of its members running in 2020. Sarasota's Board has not had a non-Republican on it in 50 years.



Pat Rounds, a citizen advocate, has sought answers to certain questions raised by this potential maneuver - to no avail. Below is Rounds' email effort to get some answers to questions. 

To date, the exchange has been rather one-sided:



To the Sarasota County Commission and County Administrators: 

In May (as requested by the County Commission), County staff compiled and presented a comprehensive research report at a BoCC meeting assessing the potential need to redistrict before the 2020 Census. See attached (Redistricting--County Staff Research May 2019).  


This County staff report contains criteria identified by the Supreme Court to determine population differences which would justify a redistricting exercise. The Supreme Court stated that "generally the maximum population deviation between the largest and smallest district should be less than 10% to presumably comply with the one person, one vote rule."  Couple this formula with the ESRI/District population table currently posted on the County Commission page at scgov.net .  See attached.  The same ESRI GIS table (2018-2023) was recently sent to the County Commission by Jonathan Lewis, County Administrator. 


When applying the Supreme Court criteria to the ESRI-derived District population figures (below), the 10% maximum deviation threshold is not achieved. The population difference between the largest (D5) and smallest (D2) Districts is 7,610 people--under 10%.  No support for redistricting.
Dist 1-Moran   81,106
Dist 2-Ziegler   79,915
Dist 3-Detert    87,130
Dist 4-Maio      80,685
Dist 5-Hines      87,525
Apparently not satisfied with County research and findings, the Sarasota County Commission is moving forward anyway. The Commission is now searching for an outside expert to lead this exercise and achieve the desired outcome--But at what cost to taxpayers and voter trust? 
On repeated occasions, the County Commission has committed to conducting a public, transparent and inclusive process. Please demonstrate Sarasota County's commitment to full disclosure, and respond to the following public information requests: 
  • What is the timeline for this redistricting process?
  • What are the criteria for selecting an outside expert/s to facilitate this redistricting exercise?
    • Will a candidate/contractor search be conducted according to County guidelines? Please describe the recruitment and selection process. 
    • Has an expert been selected? If so, please identify your choice/s and the qualifications that justified the selection.
    • Outline the responsibilities of the outside expert/s  (e.g., process steps, methodology and disclosure of results).  
  • What is the cost of hiring an outside expert to conduct this research?
  • What data source/s will be used to determine the current county-wide and district-level population? How much will it cost to compile this data--- as Sarasota County has used ESRI in the past to calculate population estimates. 
  • Please outline the criteria used to determine accurate population figures. 
    • What methodology will be used?
    • What data sets will be compiled to assess current county-level population by District?
Thank you in advance for your timely response to this request.   
Pat Rounds
Sarasota, 34235
District One

===========

After receiving no response, Rounds submitted her questions to Donn S. Patchen, head of county communications, in June. She is still waiting for a complete response.

Mr. Patchen,

This information request was submitted ten days ago and should require little, if any research.  The original email is below this message. 

There has been no official acknowledgement of the initial request (including from the Commissioner for District One). Is this typical?  
The County Commission has committed to conducting a public, transparent and inclusive redistricting process. The information requested is pertinent to understanding how this exercise is being implemented. Please demonstrate Sarasota County's promise of full disclosure, and respond to the following public information requests: 
  • What is the timeline for this redistricting process?
  • What are the criteria for selecting an outside expert/s to facilitate this redistricting exercise?
    • Will a candidate/contractor search be conducted according to County guidelines? Please describe the recruitment and selection process. 
    • Has an expert been selected? If so, please identify your choice/s and the qualifications that justified the selection.
    • Outline the responsibilities of the outside expert/s  (e.g., process steps, methodology and disclosure of results).  
  • What is the cost of hiring an outside expert to conduct this research?
  • What data source/s will be used to determine the current county-wide and district-level population? How much will it cost to compile this data--- as Sarasota County has used ESRI in the past to calculate population estimates. 
  • Please outline the criteria used to determine accurate population figures. 
    • What methodology will be used?
    • What data sets will be compiled to assess current county-level population by District?
Thank you.
Pat Rounds
District One
Sarasota 34235

=========

July 5 Discussion

TUNE IN Friday, July 5, 6:00 PM to http://kdwradio.com 
Listen online or on the air at WKDW 97.5 FM radio for a hard-hitting program with North Port City Commissioner Jill Luke and Gabriel Hament on the proposed 2019 Sarasota County redistricting—and more!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Residents oppose cluster development on Rural Heritage road



EMAIL COUNTY COMMISSIONERS TODAY!

Help preserve our Rural Heritage Neighborhoods

SAVE THE DATE -- JULY 10th, 1:30 PM
Protect our homes and way of life.
STOP Proposed Rezone - 37-Cluster Homes on Boleyn Rd. - Canopy Road


This is important. Please EMAIL: Sarasota County Commissioners that you are OPPOSED to the proposed rezone RZ18-09 on Boleyn Road to a 37-cluster home development.

In your own words, here are some points you can make:

Please DENY the proposed rezone of 37 homes on Boleyn Road.
  • * does not conform to the existing land use pattern of one home per five acres
  • * more traffic & pedestrian safety concerns on overburdened Debrecen Road
  • * potential loss of canopy oak trees on a designated protected Canopy Tree Road
  • * not compatible to existing Palmer Farms Subdivision
  • * would change way of life for existing residents and could negatively affect property values

(don't forget to put your address on your email.)

Your county commission needs to know that you are OPPOSED to RZ18-09, proposed rezone 37-cluster homes in our Rural Heritage neighborhoods and why.

Email: planner@scgov.net
Subject: RZ18-09, Arbour Lake Reserve
Please DENY the proposed rezone of 37 homes on Boleyn Road.


***SAVE THE DATE***
DATE: WED., JULY 10TH, 1:30 PM
WHAT: County Commission Meeting
Please Join Us at this final meeting to oppose the proposed rezone petition to develop 37-cluster home development in our rural heritage neighborhood.

Where: Sarasota County Admin.
1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota

DON'T MISS THIS IMPORTANT MEETING
WE REALLY NEED YOUR SUPPORT!



Boleyn Road Rural Heritage Canopy


More development


Once it is gone . . . it's gone


Palmer East Group

Monday, July 1, 2019

Planning Commission sides with Nokomis residents on Shakett Creek


The owners of the vacant land at the southwest corner of Laurel Road and Albee Farm Road in Nokomis, Florida (851 and 871 Albee Farm Rd, Nokomis, FL 34275) are requesting rezoning from Sarasota County with an unprecedented swap from OUC (Open Use, Conservation) land into RSF-1 (Residential, Single-Family). (Petition 19-04)

WE NEED your help to stop the development of this sensitive land!

THE REZONE PETITION STATES (19-04):

“The Applicants specifically want to rezone approximately 1.015 acres of a fill area in Shakett Creek from OUC (Open Use, Conservation, 1 unit/25 acres) to RSF-1 (Residential, Single-Family, 2.5 units/acre) in order to build one single- family residence on the property. The Applicant also intends to rezone approximately 1.43 acres closer to the intersection of Laurel Road and Albee Farm Road from RSF-1 to OUC in what the Applicant is referring to as a “rezone swap”. The intent is to provide single-family residential zoning on the property where the Applicant would like to build a single-family residence and in exchange rezone another part of the property similar, but slightly larger in size, to OUC for conservation purpose. Much of the property is impacted by Shakett Creek, except for an area in the northeastern part of the property near the intersection of Laurel Road and Albee Farm Road and a fill area in Shakett Creek that is high enough to build. It is the latter fill area in Shakett Creek that the Applicant would like to use to build one single-family residence.”

HISTORY:

The owners bought this land at a highly discounted price from Sarasota County through a tax deed sale (a purchase price of under $25,000 for nearly 15 acres of land that abuts 2 sides of navigable waterways leading to the Gulf of Mexico). Two community workshops were held by the owners to inform neighboring residents of their intention (June 29, 2017 and December 18, 2019). The owners publicly stated that their goal for purchasing this land was to build their family residence on an island that sits at the southwest corner of the property. This island is currently zoned OUC. In order for the owners to build their home there, they are seeking permission from Sarasota County to rezone this portion of their property. They want to swap OUC zoned land with RSF-1 zoned land located elsewhere on the parcel.

CONCERNS SURROUNDING THIS ZONING SWAP:

Response Time by Public Safety Services
Public safety is a concern. The owners of this property have signed a waiver and made it public knowledge that in the event of an emergency, public safety services may be delayed and they are aware of this delay. The delay is due to the fact that the proposed driveway and bridge leading to the building site will not support the weight of heavy emergency service vehicles.

Non-Binding Development Concept Plan
Petition 19-04 is a Non-Binding Development Concept Plan. This means that the owners are not obligated to the plan submitted and it can change at any time. Whereas a Binding Plan means there are no allowable deviations from the approved plans. It is entirely possible that if approved, the owners of this land can build multiple homes on the property.

NOTES FROM THE JUNE 6, 2019 REVIEW BOARD PUBLIC HEARING

Four concerns that arose from the Sarasota review board hearing on June 6, 2019.

Sensitivity of the Swap:
A swap of this nature (OUC to RSF-1) is unpresented and had never occurred within Sarasota County, as stated by a County Employee.

Delay in Response to Public Safety:
A delay in emergency service response time was reaffirmed by Mr. Tom Hicks, a Sarasota County Public Safety representative who spoke at the review hearing. It was also affirmed by Mr. Hicks that this delayed response would pass with the property Meaning if the property was sold, the new owners would have to accept the terms of the Fire Marshall report and the possible delay in emergency response services time.

Non-Binding Development Concept Plan:
When publicly asked by Commissioner Morris “Would you be willing to make a stipulation that if this does go through that you would build a single family house on the property” An agent for the owners stated “I don’t think they are willing to make that stipulation.”

Additional Disturbance to OUC Land:
Notwithstanding the land within the proposed swap; if approved there would be additional disturbance to OUC land granted for personal access and utility easement, potentially up to 700 linear feet along Shakett Creek.

COMMENTS FROM COUNTY PLANNING COMMISSIONERS:

Commissioner Morris: “This is not a good deal for Sarasota County – taking environmentally sensitive land and swapping for something that is zoned RSF-1.” “Not a good trade for Sarasota county.” “The fact that the applicant has come before us and stating one house but absolutely not willing to stipulate that.”

Commissioner Theresa Mast: “… never recalls a swap of sensitive lands to RSF-1” “(She thinks) this applicant knowingly purchased this property in its current state ..” “The community would get the raw end of the deal on this one”

Commissioner Strelec: “…. a real safely issue out there and although people in the fire department can make agreements to that kind of thing it doesn’t change that fact that I think there is a real danger and that is why I don’t support this.”

Commissioner Cooper: “The applicant opened with a statement calling for ‘equal land for equal land’. I think that is a mischaracterization of what is happening here. The only thing equal is their relative size.”

One a final note, Commissioner Theresa Mast thanked the community members who came and spoke in opposition of this petition and carrying themselves in a very professional manner. She stated that commissioners are guided by regulations rather than emotions and have to factor those issues.

REVIEW BOARDS RECOMMENDATION:
The Review Board made a unanimous recommendation to deny Petition 19-04. A final review from the County Commissioners is set for September 10, 2019. If you would like to learn more about this rezoning request and watch the entire review hearing, please do so by following this link:


For more, contract Bill Cantrell at NACA:
Bill Cantrell  |  President
NACA (Nokomis Area Civic Association)
Cellular  |  941-586-8301
billcantrell@verizon.net
www.naca-nokomis.com

Old Miakka residents propose changes to Sarasota 2050 Future Land Use Maps

The following article can be found at SarasotaNewsLeader.com

Citing concerns about changing development policies for eastern Sarasota County, Planning Commission recommends County Commission stop initiative to reduce density near Fruitville/Verna roads intersection

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Sarasota Audubon joins Conservation Foundation to save Rural Heritage at Celery Fields

An update to this post is here.

logo
PLEASE HELP SAVE THE 
CELERY FIELDS
CONSERVATION AREA


The  Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast 
has launched a campaign to help save and maintain rural/farm-type lands east of the Celery Fields. They are negotiating with Big Cat Habitat to put that land under conservation easement (in other words, never to go for development). They have also committed to buying the land east of East Road and north of Palmer which is currently a stables and a big pond--opposite the entrance to a housing development. This piece of land, known as Graceland, is up for sale for $2.55 million.

(All of the above does not address the Quad, although the CFGC is firmly behind the idea of no development. That is another fight that SAS is engaged in).


The Conservation Foundation must raise $650,000 in community donations by June 30, and another $650,000 by September 30 in order to meet their contract deposits, demonstrate community support, and keep this one-time opportunity alive. 

MATCHING DONATIONS
Sarasota Audubon has pledged a 5% match for very dollar donated by its members to saving Graceland (topping out at $5,000 in matching funds)

There are several ways to donate: Sarasota Audubon or 
Conservation Foundation or you can mail a check made out to SAS to 999 Center Rd, Sarasota, FL 34240. We will pass all donations on to the Conservation Foundation.

We deeply appreciate your generosity.  Your children and grandchildren will thank you.

  Yours in conservation,

Jeanne Dubi, Acting President, and the SAS Board of Directors
Christine P. Johnson, President CFGC

Friday, June 14, 2019

Siesta Key Renourishment hampered by Red Tide


Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

Subscribe to the SNL

Red tide stymies monitoring of offshore sea life required for South Siesta Renourishment Project


Divers did find absence of sponges and dead and stressed corals, likely a result of depleted oxygen levels

A graphic shows before and after photos of south Siesta Key beach in 2016. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The severity of the red tide bloom that ended early this year significantly hampered the work of a Deerfield Beach consulting firm Sarasota County hired to monitor the impacts of the last South Siesta Renourishment Project, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
“Conditions at Siesta Key were checked on October 29, 2018 but were not acceptable for underwater work,” the consultant, Coastal Eco-Group, wrote in a report detailing the situation in the nearshore hardbottom area close to the south Siesta shoreline. After late October 2018, further attempts were made to study four areas designated for the monitoring in the second year after the project was completed, the report explains, but each had little success.
Finally, even after the red tide bloom subsided, rough conditions in the Gulf of Mexico dropped visibility levels so low that mapping was not possible, the report says. The survey ultimately was terminated, the report adds.
Nonetheless, limited observations that divers were able to make in November and December 2018 found that “[s]ponges [had] virtually disappeared from the benthic community,” and that that loss “is likely attributed to the prolonged red tide event in 2018.” The report did point out, though, that Hurricane Irma in September 2017 and Hurricane Michael in October 2018 might have dislodged some of the sponges.
Yet, “Harmful algal blooms have been linked to invertebrate die-offs including sponges,” as a result of prolonged periods of low oxygen levels, the report notes.
(The benthic zone is the lowest level of a body of water, including the sediment surface and some subsurface layers, the New World Encyclopedia explains. “Benthic organisms play an important role in food chains, including as food for humans,” the encyclopedia adds, and the “benthic zone provides an area for spawning, foraging, and refuge for various fish species …”)
Dead and stressed and corals that divers were able to observe also most likely were victims of the red tide bloom, the report indicates, as blooms deplete oxygen in the water. One section of the report notes that corals did not appear to have suffered from coverage of sand associated with the renourishment initiative.

This is an example of scleractinian coral. Image from the University of California at Berkeley

Later, the report references “the losses of large biota (sponges, octocorals and scleractinian corals) observed [during the survey],” adding that the situation appeared “to be related to the effects of the severe red tide and storm dislodgement rather than burial from beach nourishment sand …”
The report focuses on the monitoring attempts for the second year — “Year 2 post-construction,” as it is referred to — following the April 2016 completion of the South Siesta Renourishment initiative. The survey was required by state and federal environmental officials in an effort to determine the effects of the project on sea creatures living offshore of the renourishment area.
The report was submitted to county staff earlier this year and released to the News Leader, at the publication’s request, after the county staff review was completed late last month.
In October 2015, the report points out, pre-construction surveys of three areas were completed, to serve as a baseline for the monitoring.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) requires monitoring of nearshore hardbottom after renourishment projects because of the importance of hardbottom as an ecological resource.
An April 2018 FDEP document and other materials explain that nearshore hardbottom has the following functions:
  • It serves as a shelter and food resource for more than 1,000 recorded species of algae, invertebrates and vertebrates.
  • It provides nursery areas.
  • It provides spawning sites for more than 100 species of invertebrates and fish.
  • It provides recreational opportunities — boating, fishing and diving.
  • It dissipates wave energy that otherwise could cause erosion.
FDEP strives to protect nearshore hardbottom resources because of those reasons, the materials point out.

This chart details the survey efforts for the Year 2 post-construction monitoring of the South Siesta Renourishment Project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Coastal Eco-Group report concludes that, based on the observations and results of the Year 2 post-construction survey, “it is unlikely that the current hardbottom monitoring program will be able to detect project-related effects” from the 2016 South Siesta Renourishment Project.
Still, the report says, the “Year 3 post-construction survey will provide valuable data on recovery of benthic communities, particularly sponges, octocorals, and scleractinian corals, following the red tide event and an overall status/condition report of benthic communities adjacent to the beach nourishment project area.”
Monitoring plans

A graphic included in the report shows details about the monitoring efforts regarding the Point of Rocks nearshore hardbottom area. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Coastal Echo-Group report explains that the Biological Monitoring Plan for the South Siesta Renourishment Project required annual surveys of hardbottom habitats updrift and downdrift of the area where approximately 749,238 cubic yards of sand was placed on the beach, between March 9 and April 2016. The sand was dredged from three offshore borrow areas, the report points out.
The project area extended from a rock revetment about 3,000 feet south of Point of Rocks to the southernmost house on Siesta Key, according to county staff. The area is approximately 2 miles in length.
For monitoring purposes, the plan designated three hardbottom areas: Point of Rocks, “Sanderling 2” and “Sanderling 3,” the report notes.
Additionally, the plan encompassed a fourth formation, referred to as Southern Hardbottom, which is located about 0.8 miles south of the southern limit of the renourishment project and approximately 500 feet offshore.
Point of Rocks is located about half-a-mile north of the project boundary, while Sanderling 2 is about 150 feet offshore, between Point of Rocks and Sanderling 3, the report says. Sanderling 3 is located approximately 350 feet offshore at the northern end of the beach fill area.
“The Immediate post-construction survey of all four hardbottom formations was completed … during the summer following project construction in May 2016,” the report notes.

A graphic shows all of the monitoring areas for the project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Biological Monitoring Plan called for three annual surveys, the report continues — during the first, second and third years after construction ended.
In August 2017, when the first annual survey was attempted, the report continues, Tropical Storm Emily’s passage, with heavy rainfall, led to zero visibility in the water. Those conditions persisted until Hurricane Irma passed over Florida in September 2017, the report adds.
The first annual survey requirement was waived by FDEP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the report says, “due to persistently poor in-water conditions following Hurricane Irma.”
Then, the report continues, “A severe red tide event began in southwest Florida in October 2017. The red tide persisted through the Summer of 2018 such that in-water surveys were not possible.”
After Hurricane Michael passed through the Gulf of Mexico in October 2018, the report points out, “red tide levels started to slowly decline in the waters of Sarasota County.”
The Year 2 post-construction survey effort began in late October 2018 “following two weeks of FWC [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] reports of background to low concentrations of Karenia brevis,” the report notes, referring to the red tide algae.
Following problems encountered on the first attempt in October 2018, the report says, a second attempt was made on Nov. 19, 2018. However, visibility at Point of Rocks was only about 4 feet that morning, the report continues, and it decreased in the afternoon to 2 to 3 feet at Sanderling 2. On Nov. 20, 2018, visibility was only 1 to 2 feet at Sanderling 2, the report notes.
Additionally, the report says, “Mild respiratory irritation was reported by … divers during the November 2018 survey attempts; and there were reports of blooms of K. brevis just offshore of Siesta and Longboat Keys during the field survey days.”
The third attempt was made between Dec. 11 and Dec. 14, 2018, the report notes, “during a short period of calm seas. Visibility was absolute zero (blackout)” on Dec. 12 for all the areas scheduled for observation on the Southern Hardbottom and at Sanderling 3, the report adds.
Rough seas again prevented any work on Dec. 14, 2018, the report points out.
“Underwater visibility in the southwest Gulf of Mexico is typically much higher during winter months due to drought conditions,” the report explains. Visibility of 8 to 10 feet “is not uncommon from January through March.”
Therefore, the report continues, the final attempt to map the nearshore hardbottom was planned for early January of this year. “[H]owever, rough conditions following multiple cold fronts pushed the survey attempt to the first week of February. The final survey effort was conducted on February 7 and 8, 2019,” the report says. With visibility “so poor, the nearshore hardbottom edge survey progressed slowly.”
Finally, the post-construction survey was terminated, the report points out.

Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

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Vision of a Rural Heritage Conservation links Quads and Celery Fields and lands to the East


Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

Subscribe to the SNL


Community residents working with Conservation Foundation of Gulf Coast to purchase and preserve 23-acre parcel near Celery Fields



An aerial map shows the location of Graceland Ranch, outlined in red, just west of Tatum Ridge Elementary School. Image from the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office

As debate continues at the Sarasota County Commission dais about the future of county property adjacent to the Celery Fields, the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast is at work on an initiative to create a Rural Heritage Conservation Area in the same vicinity.
A big key to the nonprofit’s plan is the proposed acquisition of a 23.4-acre parcel located off Palmer Boulevard, east of the Celery Fields.
In a June 12 telephone interview with The Sarasota News Leader, Christine Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, explained that it had only been a week since the nonprofit had launched its campaign to raise a total of $2,550,000 to buy the privately owned property known as Graceland Ranch.
Residents of the community approached the Foundation, she said, asking, “‘Is there anything you can do?’” They had learned that developers were interested in the Graceland site, Johnson continued, and they wanted to see it remain in a natural state, in keeping with the Celery Fields.
“Graceland is the linchpin to establish a 140-acre wildlife conservation park within a 1,300 acre rural heritage area,” the Foundation says on its website. The property “already is contributing to our community’s quality of life. Graceland provides habitat for wildlife in forested wetlands as well asrecreational opportunities like therapeutic horseback riding and outdoor activities for our youth. This rural heritage area serves as an attractor for visitors and as an amenity for those who live, work and play in Sarasota and Manatee Counties.”

This graphic shows the Rural Heritage Conservation Area the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast envisions with the Graceland Ranch property, Big Cat Habitat, the Celery Fields and the county’s ‘Quads’. Image courtesy Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast

The Facebook page for Graceland Ranch notes that the property is located at 7360 Rim Road in Sarasota, just west of Tatum Ridge Elementary School.
Johnson told the News Leader that the Foundation began negotiating with the owner of Graceland Ranch about two months ago. Information the Foundation had received, she said, indicated that two different developers were interested in the land, “nibbling around the edges.” One of those, she continued, seemed pretty serious about constructing approximately 40 homes on the site, even though the land is not zoned for such development.
(The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office says the land is zoned Open Use Rural (OUR). The county’s zoning regulations explain, “The OUR District is intended to retain the open character of the land. This district is further intended for agricultural purposes and uses, and to preserve lands with agricultural development potential. Agriculturally-oriented residential development is encouraged, and all commercial and industrial development is prohibited. … Permitted uses are limited to conservation, agriculture, very low density residential development, recreation, and with certain limitations, other uses that are not contrary to the open character of the district.”)
The owners of Graceland Ranch chose to accept the Conservation Foundation’s offer of an option to purchase the site, Johnson said. Still, she stressed, “It’s really going to be a matter of whether the community wants to save this piece of property.”
The Foundation website makes it clear that the nonprofit needs $650,000 in donations by June 30, with another $650,000 due by Sept. 30 “in order to meet our contract deposits, demonstrate community support, and keep this opportunity, this one-time chance, alive.”
Any person interested in helping with the acquisition can click on a button on the Conservation Foundation website and go directly to a webpage offering a series of steps for making a contribution.

This is part of the webpage that allows an person to make a contribution to the Graceland Ranch acquisition fund. mage courtesy Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast

Gifts are tax-deductible, the webpage points out.
‘We save the land’ 
During the June 10 meeting of the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA), Debi Osborne, director of land protection for the Conservation Foundation, sought support for the Graceland initiative.
“We save land,” she told the audience members. “We save it forever.”
In the case of Graceland Ranch, she continued, Foundation staff members are working “with willing sellers who are interested in conserving their land …”
If the Foundation is successful in acquiring the property, Osborne continued, “That would then hold the line for the type of more high-density development that’s south of Palmer [Boulevard].”
“We see this as a community effort,” she added.
Sarasota Audubon leaders also are encouraging the public to help save Graceland Ranch from development.

Christine Johnson. mage courtesy Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast

An email blast they sent out on June 7 said, “To all Audubon members and those who cherish retaining as much of our environmental lands as we can, the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast is taking the lead in protecting the lands east of the Celery Fields. This foresighted move is in addition to the conservation efforts by Sarasota Audubon, Fresh Start and all residents around the Celery Fields with regard to the [Quads] … If successful, imagine the scope of the protected lands around the Celery Fields! This would ensure a safe environment for the 246 species of birds, as well as all other forms of wildlife in the area. It’s a must for us all to help right now.”
The email encouraged people to donate to the Foundation.
The Fresh Start group mentioned in the Sarasota Audubon email is the same organization that worked with county staff last year — with the support of the County Commission — to propose potential passive uses of the county’s four Quads parcels next to the Celery Fields. Comprising representatives of 50 homeowner associations in the area around the Celery Fields, the Fresh Start Initiative sought to convince the commissioners to focus on long-range planning for the Quads that would be compatible with the Celery Fields, which has become an internationally known bird-watching destination.
Early this year, the County Commission authorized staff to conduct community outreach for a potential amendment to the Critical Area Plan approved years ago for the eastern part of the county that encompasses the Fruitville Initiative. The board members agreed that the Quads could be considered for inclusion in that CAP, for more comprehensive planning purposes.
Nonetheless, on June 4, commission Chair Charles Hines brought up the prospect of the board’s selling the Southwest Quad to any developer who would be willing to create an affordable housing project on the site.
A Fresh Start blog this week noted both the Conservation Foundation efforts and the County Commission discussion last week. The Foundation’s plans, the blog pointed out, would ensure that Graceland Ranch “would receive a conservation easement barring development in perpetuity. The land could be dedicated to equestrian uses benefiting the public: riding, hippotherapy, school visits, education, and more, says [Foundation President] Johnson, who noted that several schools are nearby,” including not only Tatum Ridge, but also Fruitville Elementary, McIntosh Middle and the Farm School.
The blog added, “The Foundation is advocating uses in keeping with the trends and surrounding human communities, integrating a long-range vision of a lasting rural heritage and wildlife conservation for future generations.”

This is a portion of Graceland Ranch. Image from Google Maps

Conversely, the blog says, “[W]hile affordable housing is indeed a goal … Mr. Hines is promoting a quick fix to motivate the private construction of less costly housing, apparently without regard to how such an initiative would impact a host of significant social, environmental, economic and infrastructural concerns in a complex, radically changing area.”
Fresh Start also is encouraging people to contribute to the acquisition of Graceland Ranch.



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