Saturday, November 2, 2019

After the Nov. 2 Rally for the Celery Fields

A question:

What town, what community would receive the gift of an extraordinary water management system that not only protects our homes from floods, but also provides a fertile environment for birds, and a pristine open space beloved by people for its tranquil beauty -- what community would receive this inspired gift, and then direct public planners to put heavy industry right next to it?

We know the answer: The people elected as custodians of Sarasota County have never shown they have a clue about the evolving genius of the Celery Fields.

Board of Sarasota County Commissioners

In January it will be three years since James Gabbert brought his waste processing proposal to the Church of Hope. Three years since the community came out in force to tell him and the County: NO WAY.

Now, after saying little and doing less, the Board can come back on Wednesday Nov. 6 at 1:30 pm and direct the Planning Dept. to rezone these parcels for industry, offices, or affordable housing.

There are a lot of reasons why industry is wrong here. Here are two:

First, anything like what Gabbert wanted, or like the warehouses Bob Waechter owns, or a Restaurant Depot, would involve more big trucks or car traffic. Gabbert’s rising WTF there will soon be adding 100 trucks a day to Palmer Blvd., in and out, all day long.

Second, this is a gateway. Gary Walsh and others have noted the dramatic impact that they experience when, heading west on Palmer Blvd, they come through the underpass -- the world suddenly changes. The cramped corridors west of I-75 open up, turn green, then suddenly it's wetlands, birds, a huge open space and that radiant hill. 

Gary Walsh

This landscape is telling us a story - it’s introducing us to East County, to the rural Sarasota that's ranching, nurseries and farms, but increasingly getting sold and subdivided into single-family gated communities. East Sarasota's rural life is disappearing -- although Becky Ayech and others out East are fighting to protect it, with intelligence and determination.

If we rezone this gateway to allow industrial uses, this beautiful introduction to East County could also disappear. Instead of entering a prelude to a pristine open space, we’ll find a concrete barrier of 80,000-square-foot-buildings and parking lots. Instead of a walkable central open space drawing people and nature into communion, we’ll have Gabbert’s WTF, So and So’s What the Hell, and some other guy's Vision of Mordor piling on noise and traffic, devouring the light, and despoiling our landscape's story.

On Wednesday Nov. 6, the Board can try to “split the difference” by taking parcels 1 and 4, east of Apex, out of surplus lands and designating them for passive recreation or an urban forest. Great, so long as that’s a permanent and irrevocable designation.

But it’s still not adequate. Parcels 2 and 3 west of Apex should not be rezoned for industry, or for anything except simple uses that serve the community. They are public land.

Here's the chess game we're dealing with:

If the Board orders Planning to rezone parcels for industrial use or offices, the process will take several months, and then return to the Board for a vote. At this point, a public hearing will be necessary.

Note: the Lambert Advisory report the Board paid for to justify sale to industry did not consider actual conditions - neither surrounding land uses, such as the nearby Celery Fields, nor the poor roads, nor the community's input, nor the market's trending toward residential in the area. Its spreadsheet price study is also out of date.

Here's the big thing: The public hearing for the rezoning is likely to be entirely gratuitous -- that is, there will be no applicant. The Board will simply be voting on an application originated by itself. And yet, if for example they vote to approve industrial rezoning on Parcel #2, then it's a fait accompli: Gabbert, Waechter or someone else can buy the land from the County and build, so long as it meets whichever zoning the Board has approved. 

We see what they are doing here. They are pre-approving the sale of rezoned public land to a private developer, and once that rezoning is approved, the public has no further say, no public hearing. 

That's why, if the Board votes to rezone in ways the community feels are inappropriate, it will be essential to step up when Planning brings its plans back for approval. With no specific applicant named, Bob Waechter can wait in the wings till it's a done deal. This is just one way it all can go down. Let's call it the Waechter way.

Here's the thing: We've told our elected officials all this and more repeatedly over the past 35 months. We've told them that our wildlife area will need to expand and evolve to accommodate more visitors, some who come from overseas to explore this treasure.

We need to keep saying it:  Keep these parcels for public uses. We need our public lands to remain free from an industrial zoning concocted in 1975. For our central park to fully realize its potential, our planning process must totally be free from the degradation of developer greed and backroom cronyism.

We might have to give our commissioners hell so Sarasota’s Celery Fields can remain a heaven.

Elian Rosaire
Let's do all we can protect this beautiful place, and secure a healthy future for all of Sarasota County. We can start by sweeping out those who think it’s still 1975, and bring in people of vision, spirit, integrity, and common sense. 

Think of this not as our last stand, but as the first spark of restoring human sensibility and intelligence to Sarasota County in 2020.

Board rezoning and sale of public lands at the Celery Fields
Wednesday, Nov. 6
1660 Ringling Boulevard
1:30 pm

No comments:

Post a Comment