Monday, March 25, 2019

The rezoning of the Quads: Update

The County has initiated a process. Its aim is to decide what to do about four parcels of public land at Apex Rd. and Palmer Blvd. which the County acquired in 1997, commonly called the Quads.

Two parcels (#1 and #2) have lain vacant for 22 years. Parcel #3 has had a temporary fire station, but will soon have a permanent one. Parcel #4 has a retention pond.

The Planning Department's process, called a Critical Area Plan, is intended to take a new look at these parcels in the context of surrounding lands, assets and uses. Part of the decision about how these parcels are rezoned will depend on which surroundings are considered most relevant.

The immediate surroundings include:

Quads and partial surrounding context
  • The Celery Fields
  • Small office and warehouse facilities north and south of the Quads
  • Thousands of new homes and apartments built on East Palmer Blvd., on Debrecen, on Lorraine (formerly Iona), on Cattlemen Rd., and more -- all since the Quads were acquired.
  • Tatum Ridge elementary school.
  • The commercial area just west of I-75 that includes Detwilers, JRs Packinghouse Cafe, and many more businesses.
  • The Fruitville Initiative - now underway at Coburn and Fruitville, which will eventually contain more than 1,000 new residences.
  • Ackerman Park

In mid-May (date not yet set), the Planning Department will hold one public meeting to hear input from our communities. The Board got an earful on Aug. 23, 2017, when more than 300 people attended an all-day hearing on a proposal from waste developer James  Gabbert, who wanted to buy parcel #2 and build a 16-acre, open air waste processing facility. The proposal eventually was voted down 3-2, with Commissioners Maio and Moran voting for Gabbert's waste facility.


These are public lands, but the Board, especially Commissioners Maio and Moran, have indicated preference for selling these 30+ acres to private developers. Industrial developers such as Robert Waechter and James Gabbert have long supported the political careers of Maio and Moran. Waechter owns several dilapidated warehouses just south of parcel #2 and has been strongly in favor of putting more industry on the Quads.

Here an update on the May meeting from the lead planner for the county's Critical Area Plan process, Steve Kirk:
The public workshop will be an informal event and staff will be flexible in how it concludes.  Timing speakers would be unnecessary, however, domination of discussions will be discouraged.  Any input regarding CAP should be directed  to me at my address, phone number or email address below. 
The intent  of the workshop is to present to the public all the information the staff has at the time, and then hear ideas and feedback from those in attendance.  The staff presentation will include any ideas related to the CAP or the County properties previously provided by the public, including those previously put forth by Fresh Start.* We will also include anything else we receive  prior to the workshop.  It will be made clear in our presentation that we will continue to take public input, and will welcome conversations on the CAP issues after the workshop, and until the CAP study is completed. 
Let me know if you have questions. 
Planner III
Sarasota County Planning Services
1660 Ringling Blvd, Sarasota, FL 34236
Office: 941-861-5202
Email: skirk@scgov.net
Steve Kirk, AICP, ASLA


*Editor's note: Fresh Start was a community-based initiative to propose uses for the Quad parcels that were alternatives to industry. The community provided many ideas which were vetted then voted on by community representatives. Four "finalist" ideas were presented which included a public open space and buffer for the Celery Fields birding area; an ecolodge and restaurant; an athletic complex, and an area of shops and affordable housing. The Board chose to pursue none of these community ideas, or to respond to the community's vision. Instead, it paid $29,000 to a Miami consultant, Lambert Advisory, which advised industrial use on parcel #3, leading to this new Critical Area Plan.

When the date / time of the public meeting is set, we'll let you know.

Celery Fields looking west

Friday, March 22, 2019

Clark Road widening under consideration

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Widening of Clark Road to six lanes from I-75 to Ibis Street and realignment of Lorraine Road to be focus of proposed county Comprehensive Plan amendment



Goal is to provide better road network connecting new developments east of I-75
This Future Thoroughfare Map in the county Comprehensive Plan shows ‘North South Roadway A.’ Image courtesy Sarasota County
The Sarasota County Commission has authorized county staff to work on a plan to realign Lorraine Road “to provide a connected network of future roadways east of I-75 to support future development.”
If ultimately approved, part of the process would lead to the reclassification of Clark Road as a six-lane major arterial from Interstate 75 to Ibis Street. Additionally, Clark would become a four-lane major arterial from Ibis Street to Lorraine Road.
An Ibis Road extension was added to the Future Thoroughfare Maps in 2018, a March 12 staff memo noted.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) defines “arterial” as a divided or undivided roadway that provides a continuous route, serving through traffic, high traffic volumes and long average trip lengths.
The status of Ibis Road was a point of contention during public hearings last year as the County Commission addressed petitions for the Grand Lakes development east of Interstate 75, near Clark Road. Because the Ibis Road extension will not be completed until possibly decades from now — as county staff had testified — residents of the Serenoa Lakes and Serenoa communities stressed to the County Commission that Ibis Street is the only immediate access to their homes and the Grand Lakes site. Those residents would be the closest neighbors to Grand Lakes.
A map shows the location of Ibis Street and the planned extension, east of the site where Grand Lakes is planned. Image courtesy Sarasota County
On a unanimous vote of approval of its March 12 Consent Agenda, the commission formally gave staff the go-ahead to initiate a Comprehensive Plan amendment to the county’s Future Thoroughfare Maps that would not only realign the routing of Lorraine Road — which runs north-south — but also classify Dove Street as a two-lane minor collector.
In December 2016, the memo explained, the commission adopted an updated version of the county’s Comprehensive Plan. In that document, the Future Thoroughfare Plan Maps included Lorraine Road from Clark Road south, “roughly paralleling I-75 …” Lorraine Road then was planned to proceed east along Rustic Road to an intersection with Knights Trail Road.
Lorraine Road was identified on the map as “North South Roadway A.”
Several developments that the County Commission already has approved and others that have been planned “are connected to or utilizing the thoroughfare from Clark Road south to the northern limits of the City of Venice,” where it meets Knights Trail Road, the memo continued. Work on the rerouting of Lorraine Road “presents an opportunity,” the memo said, to analyze possible positive benefits. For example, the memo noted, connectivity could be enhanced, more limited environmental impacts might result and overall infrastructure costs could be reduced.
“Conceptually, staff would examine routing Lorraine Road eastward to Knights Trail Road, north of Knights Trail Park, proximate to the [county landfill],” instead of south of Knights Trail Park along Rustic Road, the memo added.
A graphic presented to the County Commission in March 2018 shows planned Sarasota 2050 villages in the vicinity of the Grand Lakes site. Image courtesy Sarasota County
As for Dove Street: The memo explained that a second facet of the proposed amendment would add that street as a two-lane minor collector from Clark Road to Lorraine Road.
FDOT defines “collector” as a divided or undivided roadway that serves as a link between arterials and local roads “or major traffic generators.” FDOT adds, “Collectors may include minor state roads, major county roads, and major urban and suburban streets.”
With the County Commission’s approval last week of the plans for the amendment, the next step will be the scheduling of a neighborhood workshop, so staff can discuss the plans and then listen to public comments about the proposals.
In response to a Sarasota News Leader question, county Media Relations Officer Ashley Lusby wrote in a March 20 email that staff has not yet set a date for that workshop.
The process also will entail public hearings before both the county Planning Commission and the County Commission.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Breaking News hitting the proverbial fan

Sarasota County has repeatedly discharged excess reclaimed water from the Bee Ridge Wastewater Treatment Facility to surface waters in the Phillippi Creek watershed since at least 2013, according to the Sarasota Herald Tribune (Wed. 3.20.19).

Other waterways have been impacted, including Cow Pen Slough, Dona Bay, and Sarasota Bay. Sarasota is now facing a potential lawsuit from environmental advocates.

The letter from Suncoast Waterkeeper states:
"These spills have sent raw sewage streaming into streets, storm drains and/or adjacent surface waters, posing serious public health threats and creating a severe nuisance in exposing substantial numbers of people to raw sewage,” the letter states. “These spills have been caused by a variety of poor or inadequate system maintenance, operation, repair, replacement and rehabilitation practices."
According to the County’s own information, this direct discharge has occurred continuously since Dec. 12, 2018 at an average rate of between 2.5 million and 3 million gallons each day, with an average nitrogen concentration of 17.9 milligrams per Liter. That concentration is more than ten times the state's maximum acceptable limit of 1.65 mg per Liter.

Dead fish on Sarasota beaches in 2018-19
The resulting nitrogen load from this extended “event” is over 33,000 pounds -- virtually the same magnitude as the County's 2016 estimate for all of the septic systems in the Phillippi Creek watershed for an entire year.

According to stormwater experts, this is a serious matter, and does real damage to the County’s reputation and credibility. Given the scientific evidence that nitrogen is a key fuel source for red tide, it is not acceptable that this has been occurring since 2013. While all the while Sarasota County Government has touted to the public its commitment to water quality. Someone needs to be held accountable.

The Suncoast Waterkeeper has identified this long term and blatant violation and sent a Notice of Intent to File Suit under the Clean Water Act to Sarasota County on Feb. 20, 2019. We fully support their efforts as someone needs to be looking out for the best interest of the County’s residents.

Herald Tribune story

Suncoast Waterkeeper Notice of Intent

Suncoast Waterkeeper


Bee Ridge Water Treatment Plant
(courtesy Sarasota Herald Tribune)

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Muntz, Kochman honored for civic advocacy

Control Growth Now is very pleased to honor  activists Kindra Muntz and Sura Kochman as our Citizens of the Year for 2019.  They will be recognized at our March 23 annual meeting and will share remarks with us at that time.

Kindra Muntz

Kindra Muntz is president of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections, a nonpartisan grassroots organization that promotes verifiable elections, campaign finance reform, media reform and redistricting.  In 2018 SAFE sponsored the Single Member Districts  initiative to change Sarasota County Commission elections from at-large to single member  districts.

A graduate of Harvard University, Kindra worked in management for 18 years at the Aircraft  Engine Division of General Electric Company, and five years as a retail broker at Merrill Lynch, before retiring to Florida in 1998.

In 2006, she formed the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections that led a petition drive for paper ballots and spot-check audits of voting machine counts to ensure accurate elections. The  referendum passed in 2006, led to statewide    legislation in 2007, and  after being overturned by the Florida Secretary of State, was validated by the Florida Supreme Court in 2010.  Kindra and three other co-founders of the Florida Voters Coalition won the 2008 Nelson Poynter Civil    Liberties Award of the ACLU for their work for voters’ rights.

Kindra is President of Unitarian Universalist Justice Florida, a statewide faith-based organization that works with interfaith and secular partners for justice, equity and compassion in public policy. Their core issues in 2018 are Environmental Justice, Democracy in Action, and Public Health and Safety.

Sura Kochman

For the past four years, Sura Kochman has strived to ensure that the Benderson development known as Siesta Promenade, located at the Stickney Point/US 41 intersection, is done in a compatible manner with the surrounding residential neighborhoods and retail establishments. She has led hundreds in the effort to keep the development from being detrimental to the quality of life, health, safety and welfare, and not cause undue hardship for anyone wishing to  access  Siesta Key.  Although  special favors for the development were approved by the County Commission over strong objections, Sura is leading a legal challenge in court.

Sura was born and raised in Sarasota and graduated from Riverview High School.  She graduated cum laude from Florida State University with a B.S. degree in Risk Management and worked for Crum and Forster as  large lines commercial     underwriter, which eventually brought her to New Jersey, where she  subsequently met her husband Harry and had two sons.

Sura was on the board of directors of the YMHA in Wayne, NJ for 13 years, Cubscouts Cubmaster and President of the YMHA for three years.   She also was on the executive board of Shomrei     Torah synagogue. Sura was appointed to the Wayne, NJ Planning Board and was on the Board for 10 years, and chairman for nine of those years.

Sura and her husband and live full time in her childhood home in the Pine Shores neighborhood.

You Are Cordially Invited to Attend
Control Growth Now's 
30th Anniversary
Potluck Picnic and Annual Meeting

Open to the Public -- No Charge
Saturday, March 23
11:30-2
Colonial Oaks Park
5300 Colonial Oaks Blvd, Sarasota

Honoring Citizens of the Year
Kindra Muntz and Sura Kochman
Women of Action
 



Antunes: Bayfront Park -- Another Big Promise?

Cathy Antunes's blog, TheDetail.net, is the intelligent reader's guide to Sarasota politics.

This column, entitled Bayfront 20Money, appeared in The Detail 3.13.19:



When it comes to achieving a big goal, good intentions are not enough. Commitment is essential. Commitment is what separates doers from dreamers. Planning for the City of Sarasota’s future Bayfront Park—the public’s 53 waterfront acres including the greening of the Van Wezel parking lot—has now moved beyond the “vision” stage into the “make it happen” stage.

Historically, this is where big plans in Sarasota can go very wrong.

We’ve seen big promises when it comes to public-private partnerships before.

The Benderson Rowing Park nonprofit, SANCA (Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates), said they would raise $22 million to construct a boathouse, grandstand and finish tower in time for the 2017 World Rowing Championships at the rowing park. Instead of SANCA raising that $22 million, a second nonprofit, the Benderson Foundation, funded the $5 million finish tower just in time for the event. The rowing p ark still lacks a boathouse and grandstand.

Public money—over $50 million—has been the main source for the rowing park’s construction. Sarasota County is the ongoing source of funds for park maintenance. SANCA has not brought the funding it promised.

In 2009, as part of their stadium deal, the Orioles promised to raise $10 million to construct a Cal Ripken Youth Academy out at Twin Lakes Park. This was the sweetener, the game-changing project that was going to “re-invent spring training.” Kids playing with the pros, a great economic engine that would fuel our local economy! Today there is no Cal Ripken Youth Academy. Taxpayers funded the stadium but didn’t get the baseball academy they were promised in return.

Tangible commitments are SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound. Both the rowing park and Cal Ripken Youth Academy were promises, not commitments. The associated contracts between the County a nd SANCA, and between the County and the Orioles were effective at compelling the County to spend public money, but worthless regarding ensuring the promised private sector financial support.

Enter the Bayfront Park Conservancy agreement.

Everyone agrees a 53-acre bayfront park is a great idea. The park vision includes a softened shoreline, transformation of the Van Wezel parking lot into green space and a new performing arts hall. Estimates for the cost of the envisioned Bayfront Park are up to $500 million.  The contract currently being hammered out between the BPC and the City of Sarasota should answer a fundamental question: Why does the City need the BPC? What tangible value does the conservancy bring to the table? Among other problems, there is no dollar amount specified that the BPC will raise and no associated deadline.

Funding the ongoing costs of operation and maintenance of this new park will be critical to its financial sustainability and the financial health of the City of Sarasota. The annual operations and maintenance costs for the proposed park has been estimated at $5 million to $6 million. The draft agreement says the BPC will develop an operating and maintenance plan for each phase of the park, but there is no requirement that the BPC plan actually be successful.

This park plan began with an emphasis on private money. However, it has become clear that the lion’s share of the project financing will come from public coffers. The current contract obligates the City financially, but fails to spell out the financial commitment of the private sector. Come on people. We’ve been down this road before. Show us the money

The more specific the contract is about the City’s obligations, and the more vague the contract is about the conservancy’s obligations, the more reason there is to for City residents to be concerned.  The City Commission must get this right.

Cathy Antunes is host of The Detail on WSLR. 


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Sarasota resident seeking response from Mike Moran

Pat Rounds lives in District 1 of Sarasota County. She 's been attempting to communicate with District 1 Commissioner Mike Moran:

March 12, 2019

Commissioner Moran,

It's been over two months since sending the request below, and still no response from you.
Are you the County Commissioner for District One, or do you simply live in this District as required?

See questions in bold text below. 

If you can't respond to residents in your own District, any notion that you represent all five districts is laughable.

Pat Rounds

(Still waiting to hear when you're conducting a District One town hall meeting....)

===

Feb. 1, 2019

Commissioner Moran,

I understand that the Gabbert Construction Waste Facility has been approved on Palmer Blvd. This decision was made despite overwhelming opposition from Sarasota County residents including an organized and extensive citizen effort to identify alternative uses for this property consistent with its surroundings.

Mike Moran and Al Maio
It makes no sense to oblige the wishes of one person while compromising the Celery Fields (a nationally recognized wildlife sanctuary with an Audubon facility) to the east, and numerous commercial establishments to the west (including a grocery store and restaurant with outdoor seating).  The Celery Fields can't relocate.  A construction waste transfer station has other site options. 

As a resident of District 1, please explain the rationale for this decision.  And since the Palmer/Apex Road intersection contains multiple parcels of surplus public lands, please assure this constituent that you will mitigate the negative impact of this massive construction waste site by designating the remaining adjacent public parcels parcels as a non-industrial buffer (e.g., parks and recreation areas).  

Finally, do you hold public outreach meetings with your District 1 constituents? 

If so, when and where will the next meeting be held?  If not, please do so immediately. 


==

See also: "Pat Rounds and Bill Zoller on Single Member Voting Districts" (Herald Tribune editorial):
The County Commission is the sole local entity that can issue an ordinance to hold a special election at the county level. Should our commissioners receive a request to hold a referendum to vote for alternatives to single-member districts, they should reject it.


SNN looks at the impact of the Gabbert Waste Transfer Facility


See also this letter from Fresh Start concerning industrialization near the Celery Fields.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Primer on Gabbert's Waste Transfer Facility

What can we learn from the processes that led to James Gabbert having the county's blessing to build a waste transfer facility in the wrong location? How can we do better next time?


Gabbert buys and receives special exception for Waste Transfer Facility (WTF)


April 1, 2015: Deed of purchase of six-acre transfer site: Shows that Gabbert's TST Ventures paid $100,000 for the parcel. The Appraiser shows the same property had previously sold on Sept. 2, 2004, for $840,000.

County Commission Public Hearing of Aug. 20, 2015, at which WTF was approved. Hearing begins at the 1:52 minute point.

Gabbert Timeline The parcel Gabbert purchased did not allow heavy industry. He and Bo Medred had to ask the Board for a Special Exception. The Timeline show how Sarasota county bent rules, created special exceptions, and paved the way for Gabbert to operate a full, open-air Waste Processing Facility on 16 acres, including a 10.6-acre parcel of public land. Only the public outcry on Aug. 23, 2017 stopped this from happening - and even then, Commissioners Al Maio and Mike Moran voted for the Waste Processing proposal.

Citizen Response

Letters, emails, social media statements from residents and businesses - small sample below, many more at link:
"I am watching everything I loved about Sarasota being destroyed by people who are supposed to represent me. This may be one of the more overt examples of putting personal gain over the voices of the people and protection of one of the only sacred spaces left in SRQ."
"I seriously doubt that millions of dollars are being spent to attract tourists to our area so they can witness poor planning.  Sarasota is rapidly turning in to the butt of an series of man-made and politically generated disasters.  We have a plastic candy cane sewage system which is decades behind where it should be, adding to the pollution in the Gulf; are experiencing over-building which is having a negative impact on existing property; we’re ignoring infrastructure such as maintaining roads, monitoring and controlling traffic flow; avoided the politics of red tide until it became one of the most costly and devastating events our area has seen.  And yet, you see fit to approve a noisy, toxic, airborne and ground water pollution-generating, debris center earmarked ‘light industrial’ near a beautiful watershed filled with wildlife and those who are seeing a tiny bit of nature in this rapidly 'pave paradise' world . . .."
"Any commissioner who received $$ from Gabbert, directly or indirectly, is compromised and should have not voted on this issue in the first place."
Sample of Gabbert contributions to Al Maio's campaign 2014

Relevant Laws

Federal and County efforts to restrain blight along the highway include:

Best Practices?

Did the Board-appointed Planning Commission or the Board itself direct staff to look at best practices in the field of waste management to mitigate the impacts of a WTF near the highway and a celebrated Nature Area? No.

What was possible? Here's a Waste Transfer Station in Seattle creatively designed to reduce noise, odors, and visual impacts -- it even includes a playground.



An alternative vision 

Beginning in December 2017, a group of citizens representing 50 HOAs sought to show the Board a better vision for the Quad Parcels next to Gabbert's WTF. The group, called Fresh Start, reported its work here.

April 25, 2018 PowerPoint - Fresh Start to County Commission

September 12, 2018 - Final Video presentation from Fresh Start





Next

Board voted to proceed with new Critical Area Plan for the Quad Parcels. The Board might seek to use this process to rezone the public Quad parcels for industrial use. The public voice might again be the only voice speaking for rational, environmentally sensitive uses that benefit our communities.
The Critical Area Plan process for the Quad parcels will include a public meeting, probably in mid-May. Anyone can be added to the notification list by simply asking - write to SKirk@scgov.net - that's Steve Kirk, the lead planner for the Quads Critical Area Plan.




Monday, March 4, 2019

Human activity makes red tide worse

Prof. Larry Brand of the University of Miami spoke to the Suncoast Waterkeeper March 3, 2019.

From the Bradenton Herald - Ryan Ballog

See Brand's presentation online here from the Bradenton Times.

Brand is a professor of Marine Biology and Ecology at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at UM.
Larry Brand - photo: Tiffany Tomkins
Bradenton Herald
In 2007, he published research with colleague Angela Compton that attributes a long-term increase in red tide severity directly to human activity. The study made use of date collected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute from 1994 to 2002.
Brand and Compton’s conclusions are in direct contrast with other prominent red tide researchers in the state of Florida, including Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Both Mote Marine Lab and FWC claim that there is no direct evidence linking nutrient pollution with the frequency or start of red tide blooms.
Brand disagrees with how they are interpreting the data.
The culprit behind intense harmful algal blooms, Brand says, is nutrient overload in state waters due to human activity. Brand says that the nutrients that cause extreme red tide blooms are carried to Florida’s west coast from Lake Okeechobee via the Caloosahatchee River.
Harmful algal blooms aren’t just a Florida problem. The issue is popping up all over the world.
“We’re having to feed seven and half billion people on this planet now,” Brand said. “That takes a lot of food. That takes a lot of nutrients. The two major nutrients you need are nitrogen and phosphorous.”
Those same nutrients will feed algal blooms when out of proportion, Brand explained.
“When you fertilize your crops, you’re not 100 percent efficient. Basically the algae need the same exact nutrients as the higher plants do on land. So you have this runoff of these nutrients and you generate algal blooms.”
Florida’s natural geology also comes into play.
Phosphate deposits on the west coast enrich waters with phosphorous, while limestone-dominated east coast waters are richer in nitrogen. The balance is thrown further out of whack by the extra nutrients, allowing harmful algal blooms to thrive.
In addition to runoff from farmlands, Brand says that the drainage and rerouting of Florida’s waterways has caused natural nutrient deposits buried over thousands of years to become exposed.
Nutrient pollution and subsequent harmful algal blooms have dramatically increased since the government started subsidizing the sugar industry in the 1950s, Brand says.
"We need to try to move towards science-based and common sense water policy,” said Andy Mele with Suncoast Waterkeeper.


Friday, March 1, 2019

Detert: Redistrict before 2020 Census

Sarasota  CountyVoting Districts




Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader




Detert proposes redrawing of County Commission districts before 2020 Census results available


She cites population disparity in context of passage of Single-Member District Charter amendment, which will affect 2020 elections of commissioners


Commissioner Nancy Detert. Rachel Hackney photo

The last time the Sarasota County Commission adjusted the boundaries of the five districts of its members was in June 2011, in response to the findings of the 2010 U.S. Census.
This week, Commissioner Nancy Detert suggested that the board not wait until the data come in from the 2020 Census to modify the districts again. Her reason? The Single-Member District Charter amendment that won approval of voters on Nov. 6, 2018.
Beginning with the 2020 County Commission elections — which will occur before the next Census figures are final — a voter will be able to cast ballots only for County Commission candidates who live in the same district within which the voter resides. The process will be the same for primaries as for the general election.
Previously, in a General Election, any voter could cast a ballot for a commission candidate in each district race, regardless of where the voter or the candidate lived.
Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections (SAFE) conducted a citizen-initiated petition drive to gain enough voter signatures to place the proposed Charter amendment on the Nov. 6, 2018 General Election Ballot. The Single-Member District measure won approval of 59.84% of the voters who marked the question on their ballots, Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office records show.
Detert, Commissioner Michael Moran and Chair Charles Hines all were elected in November 2016 to four-year terms. Hines must step down in 2020 because of term limits. However, Detert and Moran will be eligible to run again. Detert, who lives in Venice, represents District 3; Moran, who lives in Sarasota, represents District 1.



These are the results of the Nov. 6, 2018 vote on the Single-Member Districts Charter amendment. Image courtesy Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office

On Feb. 26, Detert told her colleagues, “We should probably look at redistricting our own districts, just because of the balance in population. There’s a pretty noticeable disparity.”
Even though redistricting will occur in the state after the next Census has been completed, she continued, “I don’t think that we legally need to wait … It’s just something that I feel we need to do, just so that we all serve as close to an equal [number] of people as we can.”
Hines then asked County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh about the authority the Sarasota County Charter gives the board in regard to redistricting.
“The commission can redistrict whenever it wants,” DeMarsh replied, though it must do so in response to U.S. Census results.
Hines then asked that staff look into how long the process would take, as well as the expense and “the best time to do it.”
In response to a Sarasota News Leader question, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester wrote in a Feb. 28 email that the last time the County Commission approved redistricting was on June 8, 2011. The board conducted the second of two required public hearings that day.

These are the County Commission districts with population figures current as of April 2011. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This is the graphic the County Commission considered in June 2011 for the revision of its district boundaries before it redrew them. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Winchester provided a map of the population of each of the five districts in April 2011.
He was not able to give the News Leader current population data for the districts prior to the News Leader’s publication deadline this week.
However, on Feb. 5, in response to a News Leader question, Rachel Denton, communications and voter outreach manage for the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office, provided the following figures for the number of voters in each commission district:
  • County Commission District 1: 57,353.
  • County Commission District 2: 61,755.
  • County Commission District 3: 66,030.
  • County Commission District 4: 64,238.
  • County Commission District 5: 73,769.

A graphic shows the five County Commission districts in effect since June 2011. Image courtesy Sarasota County Government

In framing her question on Feb. 26, Detert joked, “Just in case the staff had some free time …”
She brought up the topic of redistricting after a nearly two-hour workshop on overcrowding at the county jail. (See the related story in this issue.)


Thursday, February 28, 2019

The "First Impression of Sarasota County"

The Quads -- four parcels near the Celery Fields -- are public lands. We own them, but we could lose them to James Gabbert's trucks or Bob Waechter's warehouses.

Here is the objective set in the I-75 Corridor Study, a forward-looking plan done by County Planning in 1989.



Here is James Gabbert's planned Waste Transfer Facility (WTF), approved to be built on six acres at Porter and Palmer -- on broken roads, in clear view of the highway, with the Celery Fields in the background for highway drivers to see:


WTF indeed.

Feb. 28, 2019: Two citizens met with the lead planner for the county's new process, revising the Critical Area Plan for the Quads. The planner assured us that they are willing to speak with anyone who wishes to provide input. Also, they intend to have a public meeting open to all - not yet scheduled, but likely to be set for mid-May.

Anyone wishing to be added to the notification list can send an email to planner@scgov.net or to skirk@scgov.net. Be sure to reference this Critical Area Plan process - say something like: "CAP for the Quads near the Celery Fields" and ask to be notified of all meetings and actions.


Waste Transfer Truck


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Sarasota Board's "park-like setting" is a WTF

This photo was taken from I-75 near Palmer Boulevard, looking east. In the distance is the Celery Fields Mound. In the foreground is the six-acre site where James Gabbert will build a Waste Transfer Facility:

Site of Gabbert Waste Transfer Facility

The site is immediately next to the highway, bounded by thin, fragile Porter Road on the west, and equally narrow Palmer Blvd. on the North. In the distance is the gorgeous mound and wetland area of the Celery Fields, an internationally known bird habitat. A home or way-station to over 225 species of birds, this area is so prized by bird lovers, recreationalists and tourists that that the Audubon Society spent over $1 million to build a nature center there. 

Behind the row of trees lies a 10.6-acre parcel of public land, which Gabbert once wanted to buy to build a full-blown unenclosed waste processing facility. The citizens came out in August 2017 in droves to oppose that scheme, and the proposal was voted down (but supported by Commissioners Maio and Moran). But the six-acre waste transfer station - a facility that essentially serves as a temporary dump where waste is moved from small vehicles to large trucks - was approved by the County in 2015. Gabbert has revised his plan a number of times, and it is very close to getting final approval. Word is, that will come in February. 

Waste transfer operation at a facility 
designed and built, 
but no longer operated, 
by James Gabbert
Residents and highway motorists will soon be treated to the vision of mounds of construction debris being moved from small trucks to large a stone's throw from the highway.

In order for this to happen, the Board had to violate its own ordinance as well as a Federal law.

When the Board approved Gabbert's site rezone in 2015, it violated a county ordinance that specifically mandates that  lands running alongside this area of I-75 present a "park-like setting." Here is the law --  I-75 Corridor Plan #89-35, Exhibit B, Item M -- which 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.
Further, the Board approved Gabbert's WTF in violation of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which among other things aimed 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
Robert Waechter
How did this location ever get approved for a waste station in the first place? Gabbert and his pal Bob Waechter have financial and political clout. Both Gabbert (who is a developer, lender, and head of a local bank) and Waechter (who was once head of the Republican Party in Sarasota, and owns a group of run-down industrial warehouses immediately south of Gabbert's waste transfer site) are significant money-men behind key county commissioners. Commissioner Al Maio has held campaign strategy meetings in Gabbert's offices; Waechter has spent money viciously smearing Democrat and Republican candidates who ran against Maio, and was convicted of identity theft in an attempt to destroy a fellow Republican's reputation.

Despite (or because of) the dirty tricks, Waechter wields considerable political clout. As former head of the local Republican Party, he has participated in redrawing electoral districts to ensure Republican control of the Board of Commissioners, which appoints the Planning Commission. He is also closely involved with the Charter Review Board. His close associate, developer and waste king James Gabbert, has long been a member of that Board.

Waechter and Gabbert has worked diligently to put Al Maio and Mike Moran on the Board - and most recently have backed Christian Ziegler, who replaced the independent-minded Paul Caragiulo.


Gabbert
Small portion of Gabbert's contributions to Al Maio's 2014 campaign

A minor sample of Gabbert's contributions to Al Maio's 2018 campaign

Al Maio