Thursday, January 31, 2019

Sarasota's "park-like setting"

This is the site of James Gabbert’s pending Waste Transfer Facility as seen from I-75, with the Celery Fields in the distance. The row of trees separates Gabbert’s planned facility from the Public’s 10-acre quad parcel #2. Gabbert received his permit Jan. 31.

James Gabbert received county approval to build his Waste Transfer Facility (WTF) (six acres at Porter and Palmer next to the highway) on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Mr. Gabbert's parcel is immediately adjacent to I-75. He owns his site, the small rectangle at the left side of parcel #2. The numbered parcels are public land.

The land that Mr. Gabbert purchased in 2014 did not allow this use. He asked for and received a "Special Exception" from the Board in 2015, at a "public hearing" that few if any residents of East Palmer knew about. A copy of the WTF site plan is here; related documents are here. "This is a special exception that needs to be approved," said Commissioner Al Maio, in moving it to a vote. Here's the permit letter.

Why is this a problem?
  • This is an open facility: Tall piles of construction debris will present a highway eyesore, blighting the view and character of the Celery Fields public lands (photo above).
  • This WTF will be the first thing drivers see coming through the I-75 underpass at Palmer Blvd.
  • Trucks entering and leaving the facility on Palmer by Bell Rd. could clog traffic from the industrial parks residents Palmer Blvd at the underpass. 
  • Six acres is small for such uses, and the location is just plain wrong. There's no evidence the county ever did a diligent site study as advised by the Federal EPA Guide for Waste Transfer Stations.
  • This heavy industrial use required a special exception (the land was originally zoned for light industry). This harsher use could influence future planning for the public lands at Apex and Palmer. For example, the county could consider affordable housing on the 13-acre public parcel #2 next to it - but given the WTF, they might incline to see heavy industry as "more compatible."
In short: The Board of County Commissioners used its role of public steward to create blight where none exists.

Mr. Gabbert's permit is granted for land adjacent to public land. That makes us all stakeholders. We can write to the County to require the developer to mitigate the negative impacts. Various kinds of mitigation are possible:

>>>>>ACTION ITEM<<<<<<

Write to your district commissioner (copying the others) and relevant county staff and demand that this incompatible plan be mitigated every way possible. 
  • attractive buffering 
  • landscaping
  • appropriate hours of operation 
  • enclosed facility (the plan calls for an open facility)
  • compatible lighting
  • sound fencing 
  • themed fencing - perhaps something linked to birding or the celery fields?
  • safe turning lanes
Email addresses:

  • Mark Loveridge - Planning and development permitting:
  • Matt Osterhoudt - Planning Director:
  • Jane Grogg - Long Range Planning:  
  • County Administrator Jonathan Lewis: 

  • CC or BCC: Fresh Start:

Elected Officials - This land is in District 1, Commissioner Moran's district:

District 1: Mike Moran:
District 2: Christian Ziegler:
District 3: Nancy C. Detert:
District 4: Alan Maio:
District 5: Charles Hines:

All five commissioners can also be copied by using

NOTE: Commissioners Maio and Moran voted FOR Gabbert's larger Waste Processing Facility that the citizens of Sarasota strenuously opposed, ultimately persuading three Commissioiners - Caragiulo, Detert, and Hines - to vote against the dump in August 2017. Gabbert already had his 6-acre site approval. Mr. Gabbert and Robert Waechter have long been paying supporters of four board members (only Detert is not funded by them), and political allies of Maio in particular.


Further points

At least two legal considerations ought to have been addressed during the 2015 approval process for this plan, but neither appears to have been considered either by the Board or its attorney:

1. When the Board approved Gabbert's rezone of the six acres, it ignored a county ordinance that specifically requires lands along the I-75 corridor to present a "park-like setting." The I-75 Corridor Plan Ordinance #89-35, Exhibit B, Item M, 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.
2. The Board also approved Gabbert's waste transfer facility in violation of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which aims, among other things, 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.
Most reasonable citizens would say that the Board's action violated both laws.

This project will blight the landscape and "brand" this area of Sarasota for tens of millions of drivers on I-75. The character of an area fortunate to have unusual natural beauty as well as recreational and international tourist activity will suffer.

The Board is about to reopen a critical area plan that concerns these public parcels. Some fear that the Board’s thinking about Parcel #2 might be impacted by Mr. Gabbert’s WTF, as well as Robert Waechter’s warehouses along its south side. The Board might find it easier to say, “Although this parcel is public land, it’s already bordered on two sides by industrial uses, so it should be industrial too.”

This is supposed to be the Board's' role as public steward and an opportunity to do something positive and of public value on our public lands.

Instead the process has been a chess game in which the public is treated like an opponent that has to be outwitted through sneaky stratagems. When planning and considering the sale of public lands, the only appropriate civic use of the term "highest and best use" is “a use that serves some significant public good.”

What are some potential public uses for these parcels?

Workforce housing
Civic center 
Outdoor arena 
History and tourist center
Athletic facilities 
Food trucks or eatery 
New forested bird habitat to buffer the Celery Fields
Send us more ideas


County Ordinance #89-35, Exhibit B, Item M requires that development along the I-75 corridor offer “a park-like setting.”

Timeline of Board handling of WTF and Waste Processing Facility

08.20.2015: Planning Commission 8.20.2015 hearing on WTF Item 4 (video)

10.14.2015: Board of County Commissioners hearing on WTF Item 8 (video) Gabbert's waste transfer facility was approved. Moved for approval by Maio, approved by Commissioners Maio, Hines, Robinson, Caragiulo, Mason.

“Park-like setting”?
Spoonie courtesy of Chuck Behrmann


  1. Been a home owner on Siesta Key for 35 yrs. I'm an Audubon site supervisor for our birds and wildlife here. People come world wide here to visit the Celery Fields. Sarasota county, put our money to a more caring better use as most of Sarasota people are caring. I'm disappointed and sad with having this needless mission approved. Big Money wins again! I may leave here and find a more caring place to live!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Dick Miles

    1. Our environment is dwindling away from greed. It is truly awful. I moved to the SW coast for the environment and wildlife and waters. We are loosing them all! Sad so sad!

  2. Those who care can write to the board and planners at the addresses shown above. It is important for them to know this is not acceptable, as they are about to make more plans for the area. A message can be brief, e.g.:

    I protest the county's approval of James Gabbert's Waste Transfer Facility at Porter Rd. and Palmer Blvd. The sight of piles of construction debris being moved from trucks to bigger trucks will blight the Celery Fields landscape, clog traffic, and degrade the character of East Palmer Boulevard. Furthermore, the Board violated County Ordinance 89-35 and the Highway Beautification Act. in approving this facility. Mr. Gabbert has been hearing the community's strong voice of opposition for years, yet he persists. I request that the county immediately take the strongest measures to mitigate all anticipated negative impacts of this facility.