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The county-owned parcels at the corner of Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road have been disputed all year. Now residents have a chance to tell commissioners exactly what they’d like to see done with the land.
Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 1 year ago

Residents to give commission ideas for future of county-owned land

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A group of homeowners want to offer ideas on what the county should do with two parcels of surplus land outside the Celery Fields.
by: Cassidy Alexander Staff Writer

A group of residents and homeowners near the Celery Fields is working to offer ideas to the county on the future of two disputed parcels.

The group calls itself Fresh Start.

“It’s not really a group, it’s just an idea and an initiative that has the support of over 50 (homeowner associations),” said Tom Matrullo, an area homeowner and member of the Lake Sarasota Community Group and the Bee Ridge Neighborhoods Committee.

Tom Matrullo

The initiative has formed over the year, based on the idea that homeowners can offer informed suggestions on what best belongs on two county-owned parcels at the intersection of Apex Road and Palmer Boulevard.

The group first met to oppose a proposed building-materials recycling plant on one of the parcels. After the commission voted against the recycling site, the group saw an opportunity to reinvent itself, said Gary Walsh, president of the Meadow Walk Homeowners Association.

“Instead of stopping something, [it was a chance] to be proactive, and help the county use the land more effectively than just using it for commercial development,” he said.

County commissioners discussed Nov. 28 how to replenish its economic uncertainty fund — a reserve that was emptied to balance this year’s budget. To put money back in the fund, the commission voted to sell several parcels, including the northwest parcel at Apex and Palmer.

“We never came in suggesting, ‘Why don’t you put something there like this?’ ... All we said is, ‘We’d like you to think about this a little more carefully.’”  

Rather than selling the other two parcels to the southwest, commissioners gave those invested in Fresh Start six months to form a plan.

“If we have two out of the three that could be sold, we’re ahead of the game,” Walsh said, although Matrullo was disappointed that one of the properties is being sold.

Now, the interested parties have to figure out what to put there. Matrullo said he’d like to first educate people about the history of the area, and then hold public workshops in the new year. Under the commission’s timeline, the group has until May.

But as of now, Matrullo and Walsh don’t know what those options are going to be.

“We never came in suggesting, ‘Why don’t you put something there like this?’ We didn’t have the idea of a museum, a rowing park,” Matrullo said. “All we said is, ‘We’d like you to think about this a little more carefully. We want you to look around and think about what would be really compatible, enhancing options.’”

Supporters of Fresh Start say protecting homeowners’ interests and quality of life, as well as maintaining the Celery Fields area, is worth the effort.

“When you come under the interstate heading east … it’s like you’ve gone through a door,” Walsh said. “It’s like a gift the county didn’t know they had.”

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