Today, our friends at the Fresh Start Initiative have reached out to let us know that we—as citizens of Sarasota County—have an opportunity to let our voices be heard about the future of several important pieces of property at the Celery Fields in Sarasota.
If you’ve been following the issues around the Celery Fields over the last several years, then you’re most likely aware that Sarasota County owns four pieces of land at the intersection of Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road that have come to be known as the “quads.”
Many of us believe that the fate of these four parcels is absolutely critical to the future of the Celery Fields.
These four publicly owned pieces of property were purchased by Sarasota County in the early 1990s as part of the land acquisition deals necessary to build the Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility, the $20 million-plus project that ultimately resulted in the beautiful birding habitat and “park” that we know and love today.
County officials have long contended that the “quad parcels” themselves weren’t necessary for the stormwater facility, and it was this idea that resulted in three of the four parcels landing on the County’s “surplus lands” list several years ago. The subsequent decision to liquidate these “surplus lands” led to developers placing bids to build a Restaurant Depot and the much-opposed recycling dump which County Commissioners thankfully voted down in August, 2017.
But in the time since that fateful day, much discussion has taken place about the future of the “quad” parcels. Hundreds of man-hours have been invested in cultivating and refining ideas, led by the hard-working volunteers of the Fresh Start Initiative.
Sadly, many feel that in 2019 we are now no closer to having a plan that the various stakeholders can live with than we were in 2017. Earlier this month, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that developer Jim Gabbert is moving forward with construction of his waste transfer facility adjacent to the southwest “quad” parcel that he attempted to purchase for his notorious recycling project.
Public Input Being Sought
It appears that Sarasota County intends to move forward with plans to sell one or more of the “quad” parcels. Several questions remain unanswered, however:
- If selling them involves rezoning, what would be an appropriate future zoning for the quads?
- Does “industrial” use of these lands—an idea that can be traced back to future land use maps created in the early 1980s—still make sense in light of the stormwater facility, wildlife habitat, and park which have become part of the surrounding landscape since then?
- Since nearby residents and other concerned citizens have made it clear that neither a large food distribution facility nor a waste processing facility are acceptable uses of these publicly owned lands, are there uses that the electorate will find suitable?
In what appears to be a positive development, a County Official has contacted the volunteers behind the Fresh Start Initiative seeking input about upcoming changes to the Critical Area Plan affecting this area. In addition to requesting written input from concerned citizens, the County appears to be planning a public workshop to discuss these issues and more.
Check out this post from Fresh Start’s blog for details about where to send your input, what we know about the public workshop, and more.
While you’re there, it’ll be worth your time to familiarize yourself with the fantastic material that Fresh Start has published over the last ~18 months as they’ve worked hard to positively impact the future of our beloved Celery Fields.