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Sarasota Tuesday, May 14, 2019 6 months ago

Residents fill county workshop on Celery fields, ask for less development

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Parcels near Celery Fields were a previous point of contention, and neighbors don’t want to see development there.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

Neighbors made it clear to county officials on Tuesday that a 29-acre stretch of four parcels near Celery Fields is best left as is: green.

County leaders held a workshop with residents to hear their opinions as part of a Critical Area Plan study of the land, ordered earlier this year by the County Commission to explore alternative uses for the county-owned land, often referred to as the Quads.

It's been under county control since 1985 and is zoned now for minor agriculture or single-family residences, though the county is interested in changing that to possibly allow for light industrial development or office space.  It's too early to say if the Board of County Commissioners would choose to sell the land or act as a landlord or even if such a rezoning could take place. No development proposals have been advanced yet.

People who spoke at the workshop largely came to ask that the county "leave the land alone" for the sake of the existing wildlife as well as future generations. To see the Quads ultimately devoid of industrial development, they said, was their greatest hope.

“It seems that the theme here is to ‘Keep it green,’” said 61-year-old Ellian Rosair. “A lot is going on out there in the country  … We have that little piece of rural land and we have to keep it that way.”

A waste-transfer station that will sit on six acres just east of I-75 at Porter Road and Palmer Boulevard — adjacent to the southwest corner of the Quads — has been in the works for several years by developer and TST Ventures owner James Gabbert.

The Sarasota County Commission initially approved Gabbert’s waste-transfer station proposal in 2015 because it was a fit for the land-use plans of the area. According to Gabbert’s application, the proposal includes an office building and truck-weighing area. In 2017, however, his plans came under scrutiny when he proposed to also construct a construction-materials recycling facility nearby at Apex Road and Palmer Boulevard, just west of Celery Fields.

More than 50 homeowners formed “Fresh Start,” which successfully pushed for the County Commission to block the recycling plant, but not the waste transfer station. Their move to block the development is what led the county to consider alternative uses for the Quads for the first time last year, which is where things sit today.

On Jan. 31, the County Commission gave Gabbert’s waste-transfer station permit request a final OK .

That approval added to residents'  frustration, they said.

“It seems that the theme here is to ‘Keep it green,’” said 61-year-old Ellian Rosair. “A lot is going on out there in the country  … We have that little piece of rural land and we have to keep it that way.”

However, the Critical Area Plan study being performed by county planners — which serves as a tool to help the county build a larger comprehensive plan for overall land use and regulations — has residents hoping they can change the Commission’s overall plans.

“The parcels that we’re dealing with do not belong to Sarasota Government, they belong to the people,” said 67-year old Jono Miller, who has lived in Sarasota for 49 years and was involved with the inception of Fresh Start. “And [we] are telling our representatives what we’d like to see there, and we expect our representatives to be responsive.”

“It’s obvious to every man, woman, child and bird that this area has more in common with New York Central Park or Benderson or Myakka than it does with a neighborhood suited for … industrial uses,” Fresh Start leader Tom Matrullo said. “There’s nothing surplus about these public lands, except the surplus of apparently limitless greed of private development.”

According to County Planner Steve Kirk, the study should be complete and ready to be presented to the Board of County Commissioners in the fall.

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