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Opinion
Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 3 years ago

Not suited for a dump

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Next Wednesday’s hearings on a proposal to approve a construction-waste recycling plant near the Celery Fields will be a test of the vision county commissioners have for the future.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

Next Wednesday, the Sarasota County Commission has scheduled an entire day of public hearings for one topic. On the docket:

TST Ventures LLC’s petition to rezone and approve special exceptions for 16 acres next to the Celery Fields  east of Interstate 75 and just south of Fruitville Road. 

Sarasota-based TST Ventures wants to rezone the property at Apex Road and Palmer Boulevard from “open use rural” to “industrial, light manufacturing and warehousing” to construct a recycling plant for construction debris and yard waste.

Now you know why the commission has scheduled an entire day for one topic. 

Residents within a few miles’ radius of the proposed site are organized and mobilized to stop the rezoning. For obvious reasons.

An Aug. 1 email from the Save Our Celery Fields organization to its constituents noted: “The issues go beyond the obvious impacts on birds, birders, recreation, traffic, air quality, water quality, nearby communities, future potentials and eco-tourism. Underlying all this is a question regarding the balance of public and private interests in land use.

“Sarasota County once had a reputation for discernment, forethought, taste and common sense. For the past three years, one man’s misguided proposal has been carefully proceeding through the paces of planning review when it never should have made it past square one.”

That one man is James Gabbert, owner of TST Ventures. Gabbert isn’t your ordinary waste recycling entrepreneur. He is a known player in the power circles of Republican Party of Sarasota County loyalists and activists. For one, he was elected in 2014 to the Sarasota County Charter Review Board. But he is better known in Republican circles as a contributor to local election campaigns.

Eight limited liability companies of which Gabbert is a manager or controlling manager have made contributions to three county commissioners’ 2014 election campaigns: Paul Caragiulo, John Moran and Alan Maio.

We’re not suggesting, shall we say, “collusion.” This is normal activity in local politics. Elected county officials essentially control the livelihoods of homebuilders and developers. So it makes perfect sense for them to support the candidates whose philosophies and views toward development align with theirs.

But you know how it goes in Sarasota County. You can be sure lawyer and controlled-growth activist Dan Lobeck will be at the Aug. 23 hearings reminding the audience and commissioners that the man behind the petitioner is a financial supporter of three of the commissioners sitting on the dais.

Making approval of TST Ventures’ rezoning and special exception request more difficult for commissioners is the fact the Sarasota County Planning Commission voted unanimously in early June to reject TST Ventures’ proposals. The county planning staff also recommended against the rezoning and special exception petitions.

The planning board cited 13 “findings of fact” against the proposal’s rezoning petition (see adjacent text) and seven more “findings of fact” against the proposal’s request for special exceptions.

In its rejection of the request for the special exceptions, in addition to citing the same reasons as it did in the rezoning petition, the planning board also said: “The proposed use, singularly or in combination with other special exceptions, will be detrimental to the health, safety, morals, order, comfort, convenience or appearance of the neighborhood or other adjacent uses by reason of any one or more of the following: the number, area, location, height, orientation, intensity or relation to the neighborhood or other adjacent uses.”

In spite of these objections, TST Ventures in its petitions is proposing steps to mitigate its plant with more than double the amount of buffering, construction of berms and traffic enhancements. 

Take a drive out to Sarasota’s Celery Fields east of the interstate early in the morning. Soak in the birders and others enjoying nature. You’ll ask yourself: Perhaps there is a need for a construction-waste recycling plant. And James Gabbert, owner of the 16 acres in question, has a right to put his property to better use. But surely, when you consider the future development of Sarasota County and this prime location, there is a better use for that property than a recycling dump.  

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