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Sarasota Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2018 2 years ago

Group to give ideas for land by Celery Fields

Fresh Start took five months to narrow down four proposals for county-owned land outside the Celery Fields. Now it's time for the County Commission to weigh in.
by: Cassidy Alexander Staff Writer

The County Commission next week will hear four proposals from a group of residents about what to do with county-owned land outside the Celery Fields.

“The Fresh Start Initiative will present the first-round results of its civic experiment in community-based visioning for public lands,” said a press release from the group.

This “civic experiment” is focused on two parcels at the intersection of Apex Road and Palmer Boulevard. Last year, the area was a point of contention when a developer wanted to use them to establish a building-materials recycling plant. Residents protested for months that it would be an incongruous use for the land, and the commission ultimately sided with them.

That’s how the Fresh Start initiative got started — to find a use for that land. The commission voted in December to put some of its land on the surplus list for sale, but left off these two parcels to give residents in the area time to come up with their own proposals.

Fresh Start is looking to redevelop the southwest and southeast parcels, outlined in red.

Now, Fresh Start will present options for what to do with the parcels on April 25. The group hopes the parcel closest to the Celery Fields would remain more rural, and include a pavilion or some sort of lodging. Possibilities for the other parcel include sporting, commerce or affordable housing.

The group hopes that instead of selling the parcels to developers, they would remain in public hands, but still provide annual revenue to the county via leases, tourist taxes and employment. A release from the group asserts that over time it would exceed what a one-time sale would bring in.

If the two parcels were sold at their highest possible use, they could bring in about $3 million for the county.

The parcels cover almost 15 acres and have been vacant for 20 years, according to the group.

“In some cases the final ideas combine two or more original proposals,” Glenna Blomquist of Fresh Start said in a release. “There was a creative ferment — ideas evolved along the way.”

It’s taken five months to come up with these proposals, as part of a three-step process, according to Fresh Start council member Marguerite Malone, adding that surrounding communities played a role in developing and fine tuning the proposals. The group would not publicly reveal its proposals before next week's commission meeting. 

Although the group will be presenting four options, Fresh Start doesn’t back a specific plan. The point was to give community members a voice to help decide what goes on the land.

“We facilitated a community-based method to produce and gain consensus on viable plans, creating the opportunity for a positive collaboration between our elected officials and our residents,” said Tom Matrullo of Fresh Start. 

I’m Cassidy. I cover news in Sarasota County, Siesta Key and the schools, plus community events if they involve dogs. I’m a Florida native, and University of North Florida graduate with degrees in journalism and graphic design. Reach me at 941-366-3468 ext. 304.

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