SURPRISE: Sarasota County Commission Chooses to Protect the Celery Fields!

What began as a mere presentation by County Staff yesterday ended as a huge win for people of all generations who will enjoy the Celery Fields for years to come.

In a unanimous vote, Commissioners moved to place a “Conservation Easement” on 3 of the 4 Quads parcels at the corner of Apex Road & Palmer Boulevard—land that had previously been shown as belonging to the recreational area (unofficially a park) known as the Celery Fields in County publications.

The “Conservation Easement” will be placed on the northeast, southeast, and—critically—the southwest parcel, which had previously been under contract for sale to local developer and politician, Jim Gabbert, who planned to build a dump. That plan was the subject of public outcry in 2017 which ultimately led to the plan being denied by Commissioners.

Public Outcry

Various groups in and around Sarasota County have been highly vocal since Mr. Gabbert’s plan became publicly known in January, 2017. Until then, the fact that the “Quads” parcels had been placed on the County’s so-called “Surplus Lands” list—which effectively placed them for sale—had been little understood by members of the community.

In May, 2019, hundreds gathered for a public workshop held by County Planners to discuss a study of the Critical Area Plan—a kind-of master plan controlling future land use—affecting the Quads parcels.

Last Saturday, more than 100 people gathered to protest the potential future sale and industrialization of the properties at Apex & Palmer. Many of those individuals were unable to attend yesterday’s County Commission meeting, but key organizers were in attendance along with a number of other concerned citizens.

County Planner Steve Kirk’s presentation highlighted certain components of the study which had been conducted by County staffers at the request of the Commission, and ultimately recommended that the Critical Area Plan be amended to limit the types of uses and zones which would be allowed on the Quads parcels in the future.

Rather than act directly on all of the recommendations contained in the staff report, Commissioner Al Maio pushed for the placement of a Conservation Easement, which he argued would do more to preserve the affected parcels than a number of other more complex maneuvers.

A key factor in the discussion was a proposal presented jointly by the Sarasota Audubon Society and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. The two organizations offered to raise money and steward a project to upgrade the southeastern Quads parcel with features that would create public interest and attract visitors while also preserving the natural character of the property and—most importantly—minimally impact the birds and other wildlife that frequent the Celery Fields.

Photo of placard at the Celery Fields: From Wetlands to Celery and Back to Wetlands
Placard located at the Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility

During the discussion of Mr. Maio’s motion, Commissioners expressed their legislative intent to preserve the open space and natural character of the area, and ultimately surprised many of those in attendance with a unanimous vote in favor of the motion, which also included tasking County Staff with finalizing certain other recommendations contained in their report.

It remains unclear how this decision will affect the future use of the northwest Quads parcel. Earlier this year, the County broke ground on a new fire station there to replace a temporary facility which has been located there for a number of years now.

It’s also unclear what, if any, potential legal loopholes may ultimately exist given that the Commission has not yet chosen to amend the Critical Area Plan to determine future acceptable uses of the Quads. It was Mr. Maio’s contention that the Conservation Easement packed more of a punch than other methods, but it will be interesting to see how this situation develops over time.

For now, though, the many people who have worked tirelessly to protect the Celery Fields have cause to celebrate!

What Should Become of the “Quad” Parcels?

Public Input Wanted: the Future of the Celery Fields is at Stake

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.

Fresh Start for the Celery Fields

Fresh Start for the Celery Fields

Update: Please email your ideas to What ideas? Read for details:

As you are aware, the big fight in 2017 was successful. We fended off two development projects that could have had a devastating effect (especially in combination with one another) on the beautiful Celery Fields.

However, the fight is not over.

Sarasota County Commissioners still have budget needs to meet, and 3 of the 4 “Quad” parcels are viewed as potential sources of income for the County.

Some of our most ardent co-laborers have begun a “Fresh Start” initiative in order to help provide input to the County about how these three properties might be used. These dedicated individuals have devoted hundreds, if not thousands, of hours to help preserve the Celery Fields, and they continue to work diligently to help shape the future of this beautiful area of Sarasota County.

Here’s How You Can Help

We invite you to bring forward your best ideas for how these pieces of land could and should be used. We invite you to bring yourself up to speed on the Fresh Start initiative and begin to contribute your ideas.

First, here are a couple of pieces of reading material:

Once you’ve read up a bit, please email your ideas to Thank you!

Photo Courtesy of Allen Mestel of Streetwork Studios


Sarasota County Commission Public Hearing Gets Underway

Photo of the people in attendance at the County Commission Hearing today

Rally Outside the County Administration Building 8/23/2017
Reporter from ABC 7 / WWSB interviewing a protester outside of the Sarasota County Commission Chambers

This morning, a few dozen protesters gathered outside the Sarasota County Administration Building at 1660 Ringling Boulevard in advance of the Public Hearing on Petition 17-01 by TST Ventures, LLC.

As the hearing got underway, County staff made two overflow rooms available to accommodate all the attendees who gathered to witness, and possibly speak during, today’s public hearing.

For live updates throughout the day, we recommend following Zach Murdock from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, who will be tweeting throughout the day:

Additionally, this story has been published on the Herald-Tribune website and will be updated periodically today.

Our official Twitter account will also publish occasional updates today:

Herald-Tribune: Protest Planned Before Hearing

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, August 17, 2017

Supporters of Save Our Celery Fields will gather from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the corner of Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road, the site of the proposed facility for recycling construction and demolition debris.

Groups plans Saturday protest of recycling plant near Celery Fields
by Zach Murdock, Staff Writer

This story announces the rally planned for Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 10am was published online on Wednesday, August 16th and appeared on the front page of the August 17, 2017 print edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

WSLR 96.5FM: Tom Matrullo & David Johnson on the Peace & Justice Report

Tom Matrullo & David Johnson on the Peace & Justice Report

This morning, hosts Bob Connors and Tom Walker invited Tom Matrullo from Citizens for Sarasota County and David Johnson from to join them on the Peace and Justice Report for a segment on the Celery Fields and the upcoming hearing before the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners.

To listen, visit the Peace & Justice Report page on the WSLR website and look for the August 16, 2017 episode. The segment on the Celery Fields begins at approximately 36:10 into the episode.

Click here to listen to the episode

Tom Matrullo shared a significant chunk of useful information. Check out his work on the Citizens for Sarasota County site for more:

Rally to Save the Celery Fields: Saturday, August 19, 2017

Here's What You Can Do to Help

Join us this Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 10am for a community rally to protest Petition 17-01 to build a construction- & demolition-debris processing facility on Celery Fields lands.

The rally will be held at the corner of Apex Road & Palmer Boulevard in Sarasota, just west of the entrance to the Celery Fields parking area.

Share this event on Facebook here (and RSVP if you’re thinking about joining us!).

About this Threat to the Celery Fields

Local developer James Gabbert plans to combine 3 adjoining properties in order to build a facility to process construction and demolition debris and yard waste with concrete crushers, wood chippers, and dozens of inbound and outbound truckloads per day of waste. The combined properties will be bigger than 16 football fields and will operate 6 days per week, starting at 7AM.

This property threatens the Celery Fields with:

  • NOISE – Concrete crushers produce substantial amounts of noise, as do wood chippers. If this project is approved, both will be in use on this property—just a few feet away from Sarasota’s beloved bird habitat. Additionally, trucks containing loads of yard waste, construction and demolition debris, will be entering and exiting the property 6 days per week, adding significantly to the noise levels
  • POLLUTION – Crushing concrete releases silica particulates into the air, which are damaging to the lungs and respiratory system. Imagine what this will do to the birds! The developer plans to control this by spraying it with water, which will produce runoff into the Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility which was built at a cost of over $24 Million to protect the Phillippi Creek Stormwater Basin. Water in this system feeds directly into the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, pesticides, insecticides and other harmful chemicals from yard waste, as well as other substances from demolition debris (remember Chinese drywall?) will also end up in this critical water supply
  • TRAFFIC – Roads like Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road, already suffering from overuse, will be clogged with trucks entering and exiting this property. Remember, 600 new homes are being built at the east end of Palmer Boulevard in the new development. We already experience long wait times trying to leave our neighborhoods or the Celery Fields on Palmer Boulevard. We can’t handle more industrial traffic as well!
  • PROPERTY VALUES – Already Realtors® are expressing hesitancy on the part of buyers due to the potential for this project to be constructed. This means homes will stay on the market longer and sell for less than they would without this project.

In short: there are better places in Sarasota County to handle the recycling of construction and demolition debris and yard waste. Next door to this beautiful eco-tourism attraction and bird habitat is not a good place for this activity!

Let Your Voice Be Heard

Call or write your County Commissioner and let them know how you feel about this petition!

Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners: (941) 861-5344


WMNF: Sarasota environmentalists oppose waste facility near Celery Fields

This Monday, WMNF’s Seán Kinane interviewed Adrien Lucas and Luigi Verace on Midpoint about their efforts to stop the approval of a construction and demolition debris processing facility near’s Sarasota’s beloved Celery Fields.

The wide-ranging interview covers a lot ground and provides a useful overview of the issues surrounding the petition, including the upcoming meeting before the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners on August 23rd.

WMNF has posted an archive of the interview on their website that’s worth listening to and sharing!