Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Glenna Blomquist: High Water in Worthington

Bo Medred takes the high ground – literally.

The history of today’s flooding is a long one, and goes back many years.  My neighbor lady farmer’s grazing land is flooded today because the Kolter Artistry development currently under construction at Palmer Boulevard and Iona Road depended on engineers who did not listen to residents of the neighborhood.

These 412 acres of open estate rural land (1 home per 10 acres) are now zoned for 2.5 residences per acre.  The elaborate site plan features lakes, paths, and palms.  It graciously allows water to dump on neighboring farms.

In bringing Palm Beach to Palmer Boulevard, Bo Medred succeeded in drowning out the voices of neighboring farmers.

After a long struggle, Bo won over the hearts and minds of the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners and Artistry became a reality.

Then Bo Medred teamed with Donald Neu, who would have a future prominent role in rezoning the adjacent Worthington property from OUR to dense residential. The entire Iona/Palmer lands would then be developed by Kolter Homes.

September 2016 - Worthington Development is approved for an additional 156 homes adjacent to Artistry.

When neighbors objected to the change of rural lands to a planned development, Mr. Neu reinforced his view that, “This land is ripe for development.”
In protesting the Worthington rezone, neighbors spoke about stormwater concerns, understanding that Artistry had already upset the apple cart.  In August of 2016, Janice Lauterbach was already experiencing unusual flooding in her front yard, eliminating grazing land for her cattle.  She chastised the Palmer Place (a.k.a. Artistry) developers and engineers for not understanding how the drainage really works.  “If you think your stormwater drainage plan is working, well then, someone forgot to tell gravity,” she said.


The County and developer have obligations not to ruin the lives and livelihoods of neighboring residents.

That my neighbor has to relocate her farm hurts.  When developers rule and neighbors’ voices go unheeded, the fate of a neighborhood is sealed in the blink of an eye, or an evening in the chambers.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Growth again tops Public Concern: Lobeck

Via Dan Lobeck:

County Opinion Survey Shows Growth as Top Public Concern


The Sarasota County 2017 Public Opinion Survey will be released Tuesday.  It shows a public very concerned about growth and traffic congestion and strongly opposed to a tax hike to be considered by the County Commission on September 11.

For the fourth year in a row, residents cited “population growth/new development” as the top issue facing the County, by far.  Taxes came in second, pushing out the 2016 second place issue of “economy/jobs.”

Here’s another finding, in a quote from the Survey’s Executive Summary, on the question of what is the biggest threat to Sarasota County’s economy:

The biggest change from last year’s survey was a sharp increase in mentions of growth-related threatsfrom 44% to 55%, the biggest increases being traffic congestion (+5%) and environmental deterioration (+4%). The steepest decline was in the percent identifying the lack of industry and jobs as the biggest threat (-4%).

The public’s rating of our “quality of life” declined from 2016, with the percentage saying “excellent” dropping from 59% to 47%, with merely “good” going from 38% to 50%.  The Executive Summary did not reveal the votes for "fair" or "poor", saying they stayed "roughly constant" from 2016.

The percentage of people saying that they trust County officials to do the right thing “almost always” or “most of the time”, while still a majority, dropped from 2016 – a fact not mentioned in the Executive Summary.

The Survey showed that 61% of respondents are opposed to any tax increase by Sarasota County government. This should be a message to County Commissioners as they consider a large new “public service” tax at a public hearing on September 11 at 5:30 pm at the Anderson Center in Venice.  The tax would add an estimated $50 a year on average to water, sewer and electricity bills for every home and business in the unincorporated County, plus more for those who pay for gas, amounting to about $11 million a year.  The County says it needs the money for public facility projects which are underfunded, because impact fees on developers have been too low.  Until all impact fees are raised to the full rate allowed by law (including for transportation, which are only half of the full rate throughout most of the urban area) and the County cuts wasteful spending, the County Commission has no business considering any tax hike, particularly by creating a regressive tax on utilities which will hit the poorest among us the hardest.

And in what the Executive Summary calls the biggest change in public opinion, people rank “development/business” as the subject on which the County spends too much money. 

Quoting from the Summary:

                Closer Look at Where “Over-Spending”: Development/Business Tops List

                Over 70% of the respondents pointing to over-spending cite just four general spending categories: “development and business” (33%), “County officials, pay, benefits” (23%), “parks, art, and beautification” (9%), and “low priorities, waste” (6%). Twenty percent of those upset about too much spending did not identify a specific category. The biggest change over the past four years has been the growing proportion of respondents citing development/business as the spending category on which the County spends too muchFrom 2016 to 2017 alone, the “development/business” citation rate almost doubled (16% to 33%). During that same period, there was an increase in citations of County personnel costs (+4%), but fewer mentions of “parks, art, and beautification” (-11%) or “low priorities/waste” (-6%) as examples of excessive County spending.

Even more than in prior years, this Survey shows that the developer-controlled Sarasota County Commission is out of step with its constituents.  Instead of treating growth and development as a concern to be controlled, Commissioners are doing almost everything they can to make it easier for developers, gutting regulations which have stood for decades and now considering doing it in others matters such as traffic studies, densities and the environment.

Two County Commissioners will be up for election next year and the others in 2020.

The public will then have an opportunity to put their opinions into action.

  -- Dan Lobeck

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Celery Fields and Rational Planning

It can take time for the key import of an event to sink in. I can attest to that with regard to last Wednesday's Celery Fields hearing, when, after nearly 10 hours, the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners voted to DENY a plan to build a 16-acre waste processing facility at a central intersection near a bird sanctuary, Preserve, recreation area, school, homes, commerce and business parks.

The vote, 3-2, was close, and the deliberations of the five commissioners were not always easy to hear or follow. But a review of the 8.23.17 meeting (video here) clarified some of the twists and bends in the discussion, and revealed some larger implications.

Clearly the Board did the right thing. It's helpful to look at the reasoning shared by the Board during their deliberations.

Commissioner Charles Hines wrestled with concerns that a giant waste facility would negatively impact both the Celery Fields and the planned Fruitville Initiative, an approved Gateway mixed-use development to border on the northern waters of the Celery Fields. Plans for it show residential apartments with balconies, cafes and restaurants looking out over the bird sanctuary. Would a concrete and yard waste crunching plant go with that pristine, serene landscape?

Commissioner Nancy Detert looked at the potential impact upon property values. The area, with rapid development over the past 20 years, is radically different from what it was in 1992, when the land use map was last updated.

"What I think happened here is that Mr. Gabbert missed the market," Detert said.

Commission Chair Paul Caragiulo spoke of the "19th century" way the county informs people in the community about plans. The county's use of postal mailings to notify neighbors doesn't work when it only reaches 500-750 feet, for one thing. (For another, the Celery Fields are a regional amenity. For another, this involved public lands.)

But Caragiulo acknowledged a more complex, and more tangled, truth about this proposal. The County itself owned this land, and had put it out to bid, and had entered into contract with the waste developer, TST Ventures. The previous Board had voted to surplus the property and post it for sale, then contractually agreed to sell it contingent upon Mr. Gabbert receiving the changes (rezoning, special exception, and critical area plan amendment) he needed to operate his facility.

To deny him these changes meant confronting a troubling question: Why hadn't the County considered this broad spectrum of planning concerns -- proximity of Celery Fields and Fruitville Initiative, damage to property values, road issues in a tight area that seemed unable to be adequately dealt with, potential air pollution, noise, and health and safety concerns -- BEFORE offering the public parcels at Apex and Palmer for sale? All of this, Caragiulo noted, went to the question of public trust:

"We can all do a better job of having people trust what goes on in this building," Caragiulo said.

Both Detert and Caragiulo asked whether the County did Mr. Gabbert a disservice by not addressing all this in advance. The question was raised by both Commissioners Detert and Caragiulo.

As the Sarasota News Leader reported:
At one point, Detert asked Lin Kurant, manager of the county’s Real Estate Services Division, whether it ever occurred to Kurant that, given the growth in popularity of the Celery Fields, that the property should be taken off the surplus list. 
“No,” Kurant replied, because a previous County Commission directed her to put it out for bid.
Now with the benefit of hindsight one might ask: Did Sarasota County practice rational planning in its handling of the public parcels at Apex and Palmer? When County Administrator Thomas Harmer declared their surplus status and the Board agreed to their sale, was there public discussion, were all relevant factors and impacts taken into consideration by Staff, and was the decision to sell justified upon the best information, testimony, research, and understanding available at the time that decision was made?

Clearly, the answer is "No."

But just as clearly, to admit all this, and to vote to deny the proposal at this late moment in a process that began years before, took significant courage. For example, the Board could simply have berated the residents and users of the Celery Fields, and Benderson, the developer behind the Fruitville Initiative, for failing to know that a Land Use of MEC could be contorted totally out of its definition to accommodate a harsh industrial facility.

That was precisely the tactic employed by formerly simultaneous Argus CEO and Commissioner Christine Robinson to beat down the public's commonsense opposition to Mr. Gabbert's prior plan for a Waste Transfer station at Porter and Palmer. That plan, approved by the prior commission with Robinson, could still go forward if Mr. Gabbert so wishes.

This Board didn't go that way. They stepped up, choosing to face the not entirely harmonious music of years of insensitive, arbitrary and illogical planning decisions made in Sarasota County, especially since 2008 when the market collapsed and developers went into panic mode. But that's another story.

This could be a hopeful sign. A signal that the Board is ready to return to the processes and ethos of rational planning. More certainly need to be done -- starting with removing all the public lands at Apex and Palmer from the County's Surplus Lands list, as Commissioner Detert suggested.

For the record, at the 8.23.17 hearing the two votes FOR the waste facility at this location came from Commissioners Michael Moran and Alan Maio:

Commissioner Moran accused the public of not being "fact-based" in emails and phone calls prior to the hearing. He felt the developer's presentation was "fact-based," while upwards of 70 presentations from attorneys, land use experts, a Sarasota City Planner, a Pulmonologist, an Epidemeologist, real estate agents, environmental experts and others who had researched waste facilities and contradicted the developer's unsubstantiated claims apparently did not meet his undisclosed criterion for factuality.

Commissioner Maio seized upon one or perhaps two public accusations of "collusion" to suggest that the public had demonstrated poor manners.

Thanks to courage and uncommon common sense - which is one definition of wisdom - the art and science of rational planning has made the start of a comeback in Sarasota County.

A huge and sincere thanks to all who helped move us in that direction.

The Quad Parcels - courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

~ Tom Matrullo

Friday, August 25, 2017

Before and after - from Robin Bloom

Thanks and some analysis - Adrien Lucas

Art work by Robin Bloom
On August 23, 2017 the Sarasota County Commission voted to deny the siting of a Construction / Demolition Waste Processing Facility at Apex Rd. and Palmer Blvd. Three voted to deny the application, two voted in favor. The two Commissioners who voted in favor of the dump were Commissioner Moran (the Celery Fields sit in his very own District 1) and Commissioner Maio. 

Thousands of you signed petitions, came to the rallies, emailed, phoned or sent mail in opposition to the proposed sales of the public owned lands that are known as "The Quads" adjacent to the Celery Fields. Your dedication of time and sharing information about what was occurring in real time helped form an effort that successfully defeated the county's poorly conceived plans at every juncture! 

This was a non-partisan effort that was successful because we all recognized the value and importance of the Celery Fields and what this place means to the people of Sarasota, its visitors and Mother Earth. We also recognized that introduction of a facility like this would ruin the neighborhoods adjacent to the Celery Fields, a topic I had no knowledge of when I went to TST's neighborhood workshop on January 30.

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, however, I must point out that both the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and Visit Sarasota (who claim to recognize the dollar value of tourism) never made a statement; nor did a single "science" organization. It is a sad reflection on our community when local institutions who are indebted to the tourism industry remain silent.

All of you, however, you did speak out. I have made more friends through this exercise and we all did this together! We can reach "across the aisle" as they say in D.C. to make differences locally when it comes to environmental stewardship. 

Please email me if you are interested in running for County Commissioner, I'm all ears. I don't care about your party affiliation, we all breathe the same air and drink the same water. I want to know how you will protect your neighborhoods and Sarasota county from further reckless planning such as this crazy adventure we've been through known as "Save Our Celery Fields." And if you aren't interested in running for office, please consider choosing just one local subject in your community that is near and dear to you and protect it like it's part of your family.

To the Celery Moon and Back, with the utmost gratitude and respect, THANK YOU!

Bird Nerd,
Adrien Lucas


Paul Caragiulo - pcaragiulo@scgov.net 
Nancy Detert - ncdetert@scgov.net
Charles Hines - chines@scgov.net 


Michael Moran - mmoran@scgov.net
Al Maio - amaio@scgov.net
 If you have received this email, it is because:

1) you signed up to receive Celery Field information
2) you are a friend of one of the activists who contributed to this email
3) you signed a Celery Field petition.

If you no longer wish to receive email from Save Our Celery Field, simply respond with "Delete Me" in the subject line.
Adrien Lucas | Celery Fields, 6893 Palmer Boulevard, Sarasota, FL 34240 9415399044

Sent by saveourceleryfield@gmail.com in collaboration with
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Thursday, August 24, 2017

One or four things we learned at the Celery Fields Hearing

Update: Excellent, detailed report on the Board Hearing by Rachel Hackney in the Sarasota News Leader.*

The award-winning (and quite tall) attorney hired by James Gabbert to push through his waste proposal started the August 23rd hearing by reminding us all that emotion and sign waving do not count. Only the facts count, William Merrill III said.

One man's definition of "fact" is not another's.

In arguing to approve the Gabbert proposal, Commissioner Mike Moran kept using the phrase "fact-based." 
Moran had listened to 81 presentations from a wide spectrum of county residents, many of whom brought professional expertise -- environmentalists, wildlife managers, an epidemiologist, a pulmonologist, a city planner, a land use attorney certified in air pollution -- as well as daily, lived empirical experience of the area in question, its traffic, its road conditions, and so forth. 
Commissioner Moran dismissed all of this testimony from the public as not "fact-based." He failed to mention the Findings of Fact issued by the Planning Commission after it studied Gabbert's proposal in depth. Mr. Moran curiously seemed to find only the presentations of Mr. Gabbert and Bo Medred "fact-based." 
This despite the fact that not once did the applicant adduce independent scientific documentation in support of his repeated assurances that this 16-acre, unenclosed concrete-pulverizing waste plant would be noiseless, pure, and have no impact on traffic and roads.

Identifying facts requires one to pay attention

From the fresh-squeezed brainpan of Jacob Ogles:
TST Ventures officials said the facility would be state-of-the-art and generate minimal traffic or environmental disruption.
Neither Mr. Ogles, nor Commissioner Moran, nor anyone else seemed bothered by Mr. Gabbert's statement that he would be using virtually the same spray devices on his new, proposed dump which he used on the Bee Ridge Landfill that closed in 1998. You can only squeeze facts so far. State of what art, Mr. Ogles?

Bob Wachter doesn't own a Barcalounger.

Wachter spoke near the end of the hearing as is his custom, showed a map where he owns property. I'm the nearest property to the site and I'm not worried about this industrial waste facility, he said. Fearless Bob! Commissioner Detert called him back to the podium. "Is your property commercial or residential?" She asked, adding, "Is this where you have your Barcalounger and TV?"

"I don't have a Barcalounger," said Wachter, before concede the building was not his home, but rather, an industrial warehouse.
It has been noted that if Gabbert's dump were approved, other neighboring property would also seek special exceptions for heavier industrial uses. Wachter potentially stood to gain, rather than be impaired, by the Gabbert project.

It takes a village to avert the pillage.

The extraordinary defeat of an ill-suited use of our land, despite the near total silence of county planners, land use managers, parks officials, environmental specialists, tourism counselors, business leaders, economic analysts, etc. was a close call. It came about thanks to literally thousands of hours of work on the part of multiple teams of spirited citizens loosely joined in aim and determined to "not allow this injustice to occur," as one speaker said.
It will take a great deal of work to rebalance a beaten-down local bureaucracy that has for too long been bullied into doing what it's told to do, rather than doing the work we pay them for: independently assessing the facts and all the implications of land use plans. The system has lost sight of the Big Picture, the values and legacy that once informed Sarasota.
Fortunately, those values, that legacy, continue in the people of Sarasota County.

*An unformatted version of the report can be found here.

A Win for the Birds

After 81 presentations from the public -- many which were brilliant, with little redundancy, covering a wide range of relevant, factual issues arising from the proposal from Mr. Gabbert, the Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to DENY all three elements of the plan for a waste facility at the Celery Fields.

A warm and sincere thanks to all who saw the rightness of this cause and helped keep our Celery Fields open, pristine, and protected - at least for now. Photos from the hearing here.

What will happen with the "surplus" public lands is anyone's guess.

On Friday, tune in on WSRQ at 2 pm on The Detail for a round-up both of the hearing, and of the Aqua battle happening in Manatee County.

Below is a very rough paraphrase of the final decisive minutes of the 8.23.17 hearing. It is incomplete and may contain errors and omissions. The Herald article has been updated to offer some more detail.

Tom Matrullo Commissioner Detert moves to deny Critical Area Plan amendment - as per the Planning Commission "because we own the land." Motion DIES for lack of second. Commissioner Moran moves approval of Critical Area Plan amendment.Seconded by Maio.

Reply5 hrs
Tom Matrullo Al Maio - Mr. Gabbert and his team were very well behaved. I only heard two people mention "collusion" - everyone else behaved ok.

5 hrs
Tom Matrullo Hines: The planning commission weighed traffic heavily. If we approve the critical area plan amendment, we can't address traffic concurrency. Also, we need to consider the Celery Fields. But looking ahead, throwing in last minute stipulations that haven't been tied down, haven't been written yet. I'm struggling here. Mitigations are being proffered to protect the area.

Reply5 hrs
Tom Matrullo Detert - I think the area has changed so dramatically - in 1993 I'd have approved this, but now it's changed - so many residences; I think it comes down to property values. Mr.Gabbert is trying to do the right thing, and his business is worthwhile. We need to designate areas that don't have residences in them now. I think Mr. Gabbert missed the market.

Reply5 hrs
Tom Matrullo Maio - the county put a landfill 3 miles from my house - we all deal with things we don't want. There are no hard hearts here.

Reply5 hrs
Tom Matrullo Caragiulo - no reason to think Mr. Gabbert wouldn't operate in a competent and safe way. We have a problem with antiquated notification - 19th century way of doing things - doesn't foster trust.

Reply5 hrs
Tom Matrullo Caragiulo - This thing - once it's out there, it has its own life - it can be sold, someone else can run it. It's our property - we own property on both sides all the way down. It doesn't square with the area the way it is now. Today It was a remarkably sensitive and substantive discussion. I watched the Planning Commission deliberation 6 or 7 times. I can't get over those concerns.

Reply5 hrs
Cathy Cannon Antunes What about the industrial waste transfer facility 3 miles away? Is it the county's job to cannibalize that business? The one the applicant sold for $34 million? Sellers remorse?

Reply5 hrs
Tom Matrullo Caragiulo - Dumping loads of information - whether it comes in the form of a stipulation or traffic data - doesn't fill people with confidence. I don't want anything to do with things that do not foster confidence in government.

Reply5 hrsEdited
Tom Matrullo Moran: Thank everyone for patience and professionalism today. I got all kinds of misinformed email and fear-mongering. I thought we were miles away from a fact-based discussion, and what we heard changed my mind. Noise - it's near a roaring highway. Pollution - there's no evidence. It comes down to if not there, where? Contractors need an affordable option. I'm not discounting proximity to the Celery Fields. I lived near there. But I can't make my decision based on speculation, on what ifs. I was comfortable making my motion in favor of 2A.

Reply5 hrs
Tom Matrullo Detert: I would like to speak against the motion. Every time we try to sell the property we are going to have this conversation - I think they missed the market on this. Part of our job is to design the best community we can design. We own this property - we should take it off the surplus list. I do not rule by survey - there might be 200 people here all in agreement - but that doesn't mean they represent the 400,000 people. But it was great - you were all great. I want two college credits towards a masters degree.

5 hrs
Tom Matrullo Still over 100 people in the room.

5 hrs
Tom Matrullo Moran's motion in favor of critical area plan approval FAILS 3-2. (Moran and Maio for, Hines Caragiulo and Detert against).

Reply5 hrs
Tom Matrullo Detert moves to DENY the Critical area plan - passes 3-2 same vote as above.

5 hrs
Cathy Cannon Antunes That's great

Reply5 hrs
Tom Matrullo Motion to DENY rezone AND special exception - passes 3-2 - same votes.

1 minEdited
Tom Matrullo The Celery Fields live another day.