Celery Fields Lands Require Open Community Discussion

Celery Fields Lands Require Open Community Discussion
David G. Johnson
David G. Johnson

I was surprised to learn that Restaurant Depot developers had backed out of their plans to purchase public land next to Sarasota’s prized Celery Fields.

Charlie Bailey, the local Land Use attorney who has been representing the developers, sounded off in last Wednesday’s Herald-Tribune article:

It was the tenor of the fierce opposition that squashed the project, not the ownership disclosures, Bailey said.

“None of the almost 120 Restaurant Depots it’s constructed in the United States (including 11 it is currently operating in other Florida communities) have ever been the subject of a development approval request receiving such negative public attention, especially without a legal, or even reasonable, basis.”

(Emphasis mine)

With no disrespect toward Mr. Bailey, he is mistaken.

Let me be clear: it is my position—and that of others who have worked tirelessly to oppose this project—that any development on publicly held conservation lands is unreasonable, without vigorous public debate.

Mr. Bailey, it is not your client, per se, that we oppose. In fact, I believe that Restaurant Depot would make a fine addition to the Sarasota area. I would love for them to succeed here, and would gladly see them added to Sarasota’s tax base.

At issue is not the business itself, but the location.

There are plenty of areas within Sarasota County where industry is a good fit. But the parcels of land that make up the four corners of the Apex Road/Palmer Boulevard intersection (the “quads,” as they are known) are most decidedly not among them.

The Restaurant Depot currently operating in Tampa, for example, is located in an area that is undeniably industrial in its character.

In that location, having as many as 100 vehicles per hour coming in and out of the facility, seeing piles of pallets stacked up outside, and finding rotting food waste in dumpsters is not as uncommon for the industrial areas, which can be more tolerant of such conditions.

Had Mr. Bailey’s client selected a similar area within Sarasota County to propose construction of its facility here, I’m sure that negative public attention of the sort that they have experienced in the last month would not have been reasonable.

What is unreasonable, however, is not so much the actions of Mr. Bailey’s client, but the actions that led to the “quads” being re-categorized as “surplus,” when they have clearly been considered “conservation” lands for the last two decades.

This is not a case of a privately held parcel of land that happens to neighbor a park being rezoned for industrial purposes. This is a case of public lands that are part of the Celery Fields being sold off by our elected officials.

Are the lands indeed “surplus?” If so, then perhaps Sarasota County would be good enough to produce the study whose findings support such a conclusion. If such a study exists, then why not bring it out into the open?

Instead, efforts on the part of a broad coalition of interests, including local businesses and homeowners’ associations, to obtain information from county government about the internal process that led to the “surplus lands” designation for the “quads” have been completely unfruitful.

It is entirely conceivable that Sarasota County acquired more land than was necessary to accomplish the flood-prevention objectives that led to the acquisition of the Celery Fields lands in the first place. Since the opening of the Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility in 1999, it seems to have been doing its job rather well, although we have not had another 100-year flood like the one that occurred in 1992 in order to fully test its mettle.

But assuming that it is doing its job well, do our elected officials have a responsibility to turn lands that have indeed turned out to be “surplus” back over to the private sector so that they can produce tax revenues?

Perhaps.

But I contend, alongside others who have been actively opposing the developments that have been proposed for the “quads,” that this is a conversation that we need to have as a community, and not one that should occur behind closed doors, as seems to have been the case.

There is thus a thoroughly reasonable basis for opposing Restaurant Depot and other developers who have proposed what many believe are unreasonable uses for the lands in question. And there may be more than one legal basis to oppose them as well.

There are reasonable uses for Celery Fields lands. The “green space” function they have been serving for some years comes readily to mind.

Are there others? Even some that might produce tax revenues for Sarasota County?

Let’s talk about them. Openly.


David G. Johnson and his wife and daughter live in a community neighboring  the Celery Fields, where they regularly enjoy the birds, wildlife, and even some exercise.

One Down: Restaurant Depot Developer Terminates Contract

Restaurant Depot Developer Terminates Contract

Letter from JMDH Real Estate of Sarasota, LLC terminating their contract to purchase land from Sarasota CountySarasota County Commissioners announced at today’s meeting that JMDH Real Estate of Sarasota, LLC has terminated their contract to purchase land adjacent to the Celery Fields.

On March 1st, Comissioners delayed their vote on Rezone Petition 16-33 to change the zoning of a 6.9-acre parcel of land on the northwest corner of Apex Road and Palmer Boulevard. The proposed zoning change, from “Open Use Rural” to “Industrial, Light Manufacturing, & Warehousing,” would have allowed the developer to proceed with its plan to construct a 60,000 square-foot wholesale restaurant supply business, Restaurant Depot, on the site.

The delayed vote came after hundreds of citizens turned out to protest, wrote letters and emails, and called the Comissioners’ offices to voice concerns over the needless sale of these beautiful Public lands to industry.

The Fight Continues

Sadly, the parcel of land that was under contract to JMDH remains on Sarasota County’s “surplus lands” list, along with parcels on the southwest and southeast corners of the Apex Road & Palmer Boulevard intersection.

One of those parcels is under contract for sale to a developer who has requested a similar rezone in order to build a construction and demolition debris processing plant, where concrete crushers and wood chippers will create significant noise, and where trucks carrying the waste will line up to enter the facility on a daily basis.

As citizens of Sarasota County, we are voters, property owners, and nature enthusiasts who believe that the sale of these conservation lands for such industrial purposes would be an unspeakable travesty that has the potential to irreparably harm the wildlife habitat and pollute the waters of the Celery Fields and the Phillippi Creek basin.

Your Help is Needed

If you’d like to join the fight, we invite you to sign up for email updates and join our growing list of volunteers!

Voters Protest the Sale of County Lands to Industry for the Second Time

Local citizens gathered again today to protest the sale of Sarasota County lands adjacent to the Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility and the Celery Fields Park.

On March 1, 2017, Sarasota County Commissioners postponed discussion and public comment on  Rezone Petition 16-33, which involves a parcel of land on the northwest corner of Palmer Boulevard and Apex road. The applicant, who ran afoul of County rules regarding disclosure of ownership interests, plans to construct a 60,000 square-foot Restaurant Depot location on the site.

Huge thanks to Stand Up Fight Back SRQ, Adrien Lucas, Tom Matrullo, and others for organizing another great event!

Images copyright © 2017 David G. Johnson. Used with permission.

Share this photo gallery on Facebook here.

The Local Community Protests the Sale of County Lands

Protest This Saturday!

Save The Celery Fields: Protest Rally Saturday February 25, 2017

Saturday, February 25th, 2017 at 11am, Celery Fields lovers, bird watchers, members of Neighborhood Associations, local residents, and nature enthusiasts will gather at Apex Road & Palmer Boulevard to protest the approval of Rezone Petition 16-33, the “Restaurant Depot” project.

Bring signs, some sunscreen, and your love of the Celery Fields and help us protest!

Here’s what you can do now:

Why Protest?

Next Wednesday, the Sarasota County Commission will hold a Public Hearing to consider this Rezone Petition, which has already been approved by the Planning Commission.

If approved, this petition would allow developers to proceed with the construction of a 60,000 square-foot wholesale restaurant supply store which will clog the already-overburdened roads near the Celery Fields with hundreds of vehicles per day¹.

The Sarasota Audubon Society says the rezoning is, “…not compatible with recreation and eco-tourism and will add hundreds of daily auto/truck trips through strained and inadequate neighborhood roads. This increase will have a detrimental impact on the health and safety of wildlife and humans in the area.”

A Dangerous Precedent

Since the proposed Restaurant Depot is on County-owned land that was originally part of the Celery Fields, it is all the more egregious that Sarasota County would sell this land to developers with plans like these.

But even more alarming, other plans being proposed on nearby parcels threaten the Celery Fields with 35-foot high piles of debris from construction & demolition as well as yard waste, 25-80 loads per day coming via large trucks, the noise of concrete crushers and wood chippers, and water runoff containing unknown quantities of harmful chemicals from washing down demolition debris to control dust.

If Sarasota’s County Commissioners approve the “Restaurant Depot” project, then threats like the dump being proposed across the street seem even more likely.

 

¹In their rezoning petition, the developers of the “Restaurant Depot” project estimate the number of hourly “trips” generated by their business to be nearly 100 at peak times (between 4pm and 6pm on weekdays). You can view their original rezone petition and additional information about it on our wiki: Restaurant Depot Rezone Petition 16-33.

Will Your Business Be Affected by Celery Fields Development?

Will Your Business be Hurt By Developments Near the Celery Fields

Do you have a business located nearby the Celery Fields in Sarasota?

If so, we’d like to hear how you may be impacted!

With 2 major industrial projects potentially looming at the intersection of Apex Road & Palmer Boulevard, what will happen to traffic on both roads to and from these new sites?

At nearly 100 vehicles in & out of the facility per hour (at peak times)¹, the proposed “Restaurant Depot” project on the northwest  corner of the intersection could conceivably have the bigger overall impact on traffic conditions. But the proposed “Recycling Center” may produce another 25-80 inbound loads (read: trucks carrying huge quantities of debris) lined up along Apex Road waiting to get into the facility each day.

Combined with traffic to Tatum Ridge Elementary (with over 600 students) and all the existing residential developments east of the Celery Fields on Palmer Boulevard, this traffic could represent a considerable difficulty on Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road. Add to that the nearly 600 new homes going in at Palmer Boulevard and Iona Road, the number of vehicles per day passing through this area near the Celery Fields could be staggering.

If your business may be affected by the presence of either of these developments, we’d like to hear from you!

Please register your business here.

It’s important for you to know that any information you provide here will be strictly confidential. We will not publish your business name or any other details without your express written permission.

We need this information, however, in order to understand how many businesses might be affected if one or both of these rezone petitions is approved by the Sarasota County Commission. And, with your permission, we may reach out to you to keep you informed (this is optional).

Do you know someone who operates a business in the vicinity of the Celery Fields? Please share this information with them as soon as possible by emailing them, sharing this via Facebook, or any other means.

If you’re not a business owner, but you’d still like to be informed about developments near the Celery Fields, please sign up here for updates. We’ll email you the most important information as it becomes available!

And if you haven’t already done so, please “Like” and “Follow” our Facebook Page to stay up to date!


¹In their rezoning petition, the developers of the “Restaurant Depot” project estimate the number of “trips” generated by their business to be nearly 100 at peak times (between 4pm and 6pm on weekdays). You can view their original rezone petition and additional information about it on our wiki: Restaurant Depot Rezone Petition 16-33.

 

 

Save the Celery Fields!

Save The Celery FieldsLike so many, we have come to love the Celery Fields in Sarasota.

Whether you come for the exercise, the birding, or just to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, the Celery Fields will leave an indelible impression on you and you’ll want to return again and again.

But now, due to a series of circumstances that have been brewing for decades, the beauty and tranquility of this area is threatened. And that’s why we created this project, to provide a resource for people just like you to help Save The Celery Fields.

What Can I Do To Help?

We’re so glad you asked!

  • First: sign up for email updates.
  • Second: Spread the word. You can email your friends, join the Facebook Page, and post links to this website in online forums, discussion groups, on social media, and anywhere else you see a conversation about Sarasota, the environment, birding, or any other relevant topic. (You can also follow our new Twitter account).
  • Third:  Help us add relevant information to the Celery Fields Wiki. The goal of the Wiki is to develop the definitive collection of information that might be useful to anyone who is working to put a stop to the threats that face the Celery Fields. Note: contributing to the wiki requires a user account, which you can request by contacting us here or sending an email to: volunteers@celeryfields.org.

Have a suggestion? A question? Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below! (Please note that comments are moderated and may not appear immediately.)

We look forward to working with you to save the Celery Fields!