Portions of the county landfill could increase to 200 feet in height, which some property owners say could decrease the value of their land.
Although there is much debate in Sarasota County about horizontal growth east of Interstate 75, there now is debate about vertical growth as well.
At a Planning Commission meeting Sept. 3, Sarasota County staff requested leaders allow the height of the county landfill to double from 100 feet to 200 feet on approximately 549 acres.
The landfill, which is about 3 miles east of Oscar Scherer State Park, is broken into five phases of fill space. Phase one has reached its maximum height; phase two is nearly full. County staff estimates that at its current height, the landfill has about 35 years left.
If approved by county commissioners Oct. 7, extending the height to 200 feet would add 15 years to the site and save $150 million for horizontal expansion, though not all portions of the facility would be able to reach 200 feet.
“This would help conserve the county’s resources and for the future generation and demonstrates good stewardship on behalf of the taxpayers and future residents,” petitioner from Genesis Planning Bo Medred said.
For reference, Celery Fields is about 75 feet high. A landfill in Miami-Dade County rises 265 feet and one in Polk County is approved up to 380 feet.
Attorney Dan Bailey, who was representing Carol Hawkins, who owns a 3,200-acre ranch adjacent to the landfill, said the height could have a negative effect.
“We do not know the extent of which the presence of a 125-foot mound at the edge of her property would diminish or decrease the value of the land,” Bailey said. “We don’t know the impact.”
Because of past designs, Solid Waste Engineer Jason Timmons said the county wouldn’t be able to make the entire landfill a height of 200 feet. Phase 1, which closed in 2012, uses a single composite liner, which means it couldn’t handle the weight.
Phase 4, which abuts Hawkins’ property, is a small width of space, which means it would be able to reach about 125 feet of height before the slope became too steep.
Though Commissioner Teresa Mast said she understands resident concerns, landfills are necessary.
“I greatly appreciate your concerns, but this is a necessary evil we need to have,” Mast said. “But perhaps there is some middle ground where we could continue to sustainably allow for the necessary use, but also be responsible in the sense that you don’t have to have the max.”
Chair Laura Benson said she would like to see a more clear plan from county staff that highlights how such a long-term decision fits with the county’s overall long-term plans.
“How does allowing an increase in height in parts of this solve our need? What’s to say in another 10 years we don’t come back and say, ‘Other counties have gone up to 360 feet, and we need to do that’?”
Commissioners voted 8-1 to send the decision up to county commissioners for a vote, with the stipulation that county staff would meet with Bailey and Hawkins to see if a middle ground couldn’t be found.
Benson voted no.