Residents are pitted against business owners, and say they're all for recycling facilities — just not right outside the Celery Fields.
The latest battle in the war over a recycling facility proposed just outside the Celery Fields is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, Aug. 23. The County Commission will convene for a public hearing, scheduled to go on all day, that will give citizens a chance to voice their concerns about the business and commissioners a chance to put the issue to rest.
The most recent history
On one side of the debate is Jim Gabbert of TST Ventures, the property owner. He and his team are proposing a recycling facility at the southwest corner of Apex Road and Palmer Avenue.
The open-air facility would sit on a 16-acre plot of land, and include a waste transfer station that was already approved for the area. Gabbert is hopeful that the land will be rezoned to allow the recycling facility as well.
He and his team told the Planning Commission in June there would be little impact on traffic, noise would be minimal and there wouldn’t be negative impacts on the environment.
On the other side of the fight are Sarasota residents and Celery Fields patrons, who come from all over. They argue that the noise from a recycling plant would upset the birds who call the neighborhood fields home, possible pollution from the plant could be detrimental to the area in the years to come, it would bring too much traffic to an already-congested area and the property values of surrounding neighborhoods would go down.
County staff members recommended adding conditions to the proposal, such as putting in a turn lane on Apex Road, limiting the hours the facility would be open to the public to 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and establishing a maximum height for piles of debris.
However, the Planning Commission sided with the public after a meeting that lasted hours. Members of the commission voted unanimously to recommend against approving the rezone. In making that decision, commissioners cited traffic concerns on Palmer Boulevard, a small road that they weren’t sure could withstand the increased use from large trucks.
The Planning Commission echoed the sentiment many of the vocal protesters have been saying for months: No one is opposed to a recycling facility; they just don’t want one there.
Opponents gear up for the hearing
In the days leading up to Aug. 23’s public hearing and subsequent vote by the County Commission, organized opponents to the facility continue to work to get the message out and garner support.
Palmer East Group — fans of the Celery Fields who have spent hundreds of hours volunteering and spreading information to “save the Celery Fields” — has created a website and handed out more than 3,000 brochures to spread information.
Homeowners associations at Meadow Walk and The Enclaves, two neighborhoods adjacent to Palmer Boulevard, have established a joint legal defense fund and have already raised more than $5,500.
And another group has scheduled several rallies, the next of which is set for Saturday, Aug. 19 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Celery Fields. The event is being held to “protest what is turning into what may be the biggest blunder of the Sarasota County government officials,” according to a press release.
Adrien Lucas, one of the event organizers, said that the Planning Commission’s unanimous vote against the facility is a good sign going into Wednesday’s meeting. She said if commissioners don’t side with the public on this, there will be consequences.
“Every single one of them is sitting dangerously for re-election,” she said. “People are very aware of this, and are more than willing to fight, and perhaps are willing to run against them when they’re up for re-election.
“If the County Commissioners do not protect the community and they pass this, the people of Sarasota will be filing an appeal.”
Life after Wednesday
Typically, public hearings are part of a regular County Commission meeting, but given the substantial public interest in this issue, an entire day was set aside for commissioners to hear and debate the proposal.
To build the facility, Gabbert needs the County Commission to approve a rezone of the area, then to grant a special exception to build a recycling facility. If the County Commission does not approve the requests for rezone, Gabbert and his team can still use the land, but it would have to fall within the approved uses laid out in the county code.
Different portions of the property are zoned for different uses. Four existing acres are zoned ILW, or industrial, light manufacturing and warehouse purposes, which is where the waste transfer station would go. The rest of the land is zoned OUR, or open use rural, which is meant to “retain the open character of the land,” according to the code.
The code also encourages agriculturally oriented residential development in OUR zones. Commercial and industrial development is prohibited.
The meeting will be televised and can be watched live online. It will start at 9 a.m. in the Commission Chambers at the County Administration Building at 1600 Ringling Blvd. Those wishing to speak must simply show up and fill out a speaker card.