After several years of grassroots efforts, three parcels of flat open land near Celery Fields have officially been conserved.
In just 10 minutes, County Commissioners agreed to rezone three of the four “quads” near Celery Fields to protect them from future development.
The northeast, southeast and southwest parcels were rezoned from Open Rural Use to Government Use, which means the land can now only be used for government, civic, educational and recreational purposes.
Properties zoned Government Use allow schools, offices, emergency medical offices, outdoor recreation facilities and warehouses, to name a few.
The move comes after the commission in November 2019 unanimously voted to place a conservation easement over the three parcels. The rezoning cements the conservation easement.
During the conservation process, a partnership was forged between the county, the Sarasota Audubon Society and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast to protect the 33 acres.
The Audubon Society now oversees restoration efforts and the day-to-day management of the parcels under the conservation easement.
Jeanne Dubi, president of the society, said both organizations are working to create a wildlife habitat on the parcels. Design plans will be completed over the summer and fundraising will begin in the fall.
Dubi said she hopes the county will consider relocating the county’s History Center or Parks and Recreation headquarters to the southwest quad. Half of the southwest quad is reserved for government use that will be limited to 40,000 square feet.
“If it’s a history center, it will help keep alive the agricultural contributions to Sarasota County. That’s a vital part of the county’s growth,” Dubi said.
The Audubon Society runs a nature center at Celery Fields that offers a collection of fossils found in the area when it was undergoing stormwater renovation. Dubi said the two organizations could collaborate to create exhibits for the public, should the county relocate this history center.
While the future growth on the three quads remains limited, the future of the northwest parcel remains less certain.
The Apex Road fire station was built there, but it could be developed and rezoned into industrial use, high density use or public and government use in the future.
Dubi suggested using the parcel as a drop off and pick for school children to catch a bus as home developments continue to grow east of Interstate 75. Currently, children are picked up and dropped off at the Celery Fields parking lot.
If a drop off site were to be built, Dubi suggested a recreation area could be added opposite of the drop off site.
In addition to the rezoning, commissioners approved addition of nine conditions to the Critical Area Plan for the area including:
- Protections to the viewshed, including limitations on structures and dense vegetation on the Quads;
- Setbacks from the road to preserve the open nature of Palmer Boulevard;
- Building height limitations set to 45 feet in some areas with a daylight plane restriction close to Palmer Boulevard; and
- Limitations to landscaping buffers, allowing them only when needed to avoid conflict with conservation efforts.
Staff also requested that future buildings in the area be designed with elements of Florida Vernacular architecture, similar to the design of Fire Station No. 8 and the Audubon Nature Center.
The conditions are designed to preserve and enhance the character of the Palmer Boulevard corridor and the quads parcels, county documents note.