TST Ventures won a special exception from the County Commission in 2015 to construct the facility
A Sarasota businessman has applied to Sarasota County staff to build a waste transfer station on property he owns in the vicinity of the Celery Fields, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
On Oct. 14, 2015, the County Commission voted unanimously to approve a special exception that would enable James Gabbert to construct the operation on about 4.27 acres located at the intersection of Porter Road and Palmer Boulevard, east of Interstate 75.
The property is adjacent to parcels the county owns, which staff calls the Southwest and Southeast “Quads.”
On the same day Gabbert submitted his application — April 25 — a group called the Fresh Start Initiative provided a report, at the County Commission’s request, on proposals for use of those two Quads that would be compatible with the Celery Fields.
Their recommendation for the Southwest Quad was a sports complex, which the YMCA has proposed, the Fresh Start leaders reported. The Southwest Quad is the one immediately east of the waste transfer station site.
On Aug. 23, 2017, after a day-long public hearing, the County Commission voted 3-2 to deny petitions Gabbert had submitted that would have allowed him to build a construction waste recycling facility on the Southwest Quad. He had submitted an option for purchasing that land from the county. After the denial, Gabbert bowed out of the deal.
He planned to combine the 10.3-acre Southwest Quad with his 4.27-acre parcel to house a waste transfer station, as well as the recycling facility, according to the Aug. 23, 2017 public hearing presentations.
Sarasota County Property Appraiser Office records show Gabbert has owned the waste transfer station site — located at 6150 Palmer Blvd. — since April 2015, when he bought it for $100,000.
During the October 2015 public hearing on Gabbert’s special exception petition for the facility, county Planner Jack Wilhelm explained that the site is zoned Industrial, Light Manufacturing and Warehousing (ILW). The county’s Future Land Use map showed the property to be in the middle of an area planned for Major Employment Center (MEC) zoning.
Then-county Planning Services Division Manager Tate Taylor pointed out that MEC uses include manufacturing, warehouses, self-storage units, truck stops, and vehicle sales/rental/service businesses.
“[If] this petition went away,” Commissioner Alan Maio replied, “the next guy or gal to buy [the land] can process a truck stop, never even appear before us?”
“Yes, sir,” Taylor said.
In response to questions this week from the News Leader, Mark Loveridge, manager of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, wrote in an April 30 email that staff comments on the Gabbert application for the waste transfer station are due by May 16. “There is a possibility that the project will receive construction authorization at that time, but in some cases additional information may be needed,” Loveridge added.
The application is being considered under county site and development permitting guidelines, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the Planning and Development Services Department, wrote in a separate April 30 email to the News Leader.
Representatives of the Fresh Start Initiative this week offered comments, at the News Leader’s request, on the Gabbert plans.
Their May 2 statement says, “According to all accounts, Mr. Gabbert has always exceeded the required safety, cleanliness, and community compatibility standards for his waste processing and waste transfer facilities, and has promised that this operation would be ‘state-of-the-art.’
“Naturally,” the statement continued, “Fresh Start has compatibility concerns about truck traffic, noise, and airborne
particles. In urging the county to use our public lands for public good, Fresh Start wishes to ensure compatibility between nearby industrial activity and community uses such as outdoor sports, exercise, or dining.”
The statement concluded, “Fortunately, advanced technology now makes possible radically new waste transfer facilities like the one that opened last year in Seattle. It’s our hope that Mr. Gabbert and County staff are committed to setting a new, community-friendly standard.”
Tom Matrullo, a representative of neighborhood groups in the vicinity of the planned waste transfer station, also has submitted a list of questions to Loveridge. Matrullo provided a copy of them to the News Leader, adding that he hoped Loveridge’s answers “will go far toward alleviating [concerns]” the TST Ventures plan has raised.
Several of Matrullo’s questions relate to the potential impact of the operation on traffic along Porter Road, Apex Road and Palmer Boulevard. For example, Matrullo asked Loveridge for estimates of the quantity and frequency of truck traffic entering and leaving the facility, as well as the anticipated size of the trucks.
Additionally, Matrullo inquired about when the most recent traffic study was conducted for those roads and what grades were given for their level of service in that area.
Concerns raised in 2015
Before he won the special exception for the waste transfer station in 2015, Gabbert explained to the County Commission that he would have to have a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) for the facility. Additionally, he would have groundwater monitoring wells and stormwater controls on the site, he said.
An FDEP inspection can come at any time, unannounced, Gabbert also noted.
Furthermore, Robert “Bo” Medred, president of Genesis Planning and Development in Bradenton — who represented Gabbert during the hearing — pointed out that a waste transfer station accepts material such as yard waste from landscape contractors and construction debris from building contractors. That material then is transferred into trucks for transport to other facilities.
A waste transfer station, Medred stressed, “is nota landfill and does notaccept domestic garbage of any kind.”
Medred also pointed out that an 8-foot concrete wall with “decorative precast panels,” a hedge and canopy trees would be used as buffers around the site.
County Planner Jack Wilhelm noted that the types of allowable materials for the facility would be concrete, rocks, broken asphalt, land-clearing debris and construction and/or demolition debris.
He explained that no long-term storage of materials would be permitted on the site. The proposed hours of operation, Wilhelm added, were 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Among the supporters of the project was Robert Waechter, a Siesta Key resident who served for many years as chair of the Republican Party of Sarasota County. In a July 29, 2015 letter to the County Commission and the county’s Planning Commission, Waechter wrote that he owns the property at 1289 Porter Road, which has 50,000 square feet “of multi-use industrial buildings immediately south of the Transfer Facility being proposed by Mr. Jim Gabbert …”
Waechter added, “Based on his past history I am confident that Mr. Gabbert will operate a Transfer Facility that will be properly maintained and operated as an asset to our community and in keeping with the Industrial character of the surrounding area.”
In advance of the April 25 Fresh Start Initiative presentation to the County Commission, Waechter sent an email to Jane Grogg, now the county’s long-range planning manager — with copies provided to the commissioners, as well. Waechter objected to removal of the Quads properties from consideration for ILW-allowed uses. “This area is one of the few remaining undeveloped ILW sites in the county, a scarce commodity becoming even scarcer with the [County Commission] recently designating three large ILW parcels for residential development,” he pointed out.
“Please keep ILW as ILW,” Waechter continued. “The Celery Fields have their space and that is fine but the good intentions of creating this reclaimed brownfield are now being punished by the overreaching of those that should be saying ‘thank you,’ not complaining about allowed proposed uses.”
Details offered about the operation
Because of stipulations related to the rezoning of his Palmer Boulevard property in 1992, Gabbert explained during the Oct. 14, 2015 County Commission hearing, all traffic will have to enter the waste transfer station from Palmer Boulevard. Trucks would line up in an approximately 300-foot-long stacking area, with the drivers waiting to have their loads weighed and checked, he said. The operation will proceed on a first-come, first-served basis, he added.
After a customer leaves the scale area, Gabbert continued, the person will be directed to an area for supervised unloading. An employee will ensure that only acceptable materials are offloaded, Gabbert stressed.
He has been a state-certified landfill spotter and operator for more than 20 years, Gabbert continued. “Never been under [an FDEP] consent order. Never been shut down by the [FDEP].”
Any violations are logged and made available to the public, Gabbert explained in response to questioning by Commissioner Paul Caragiulo. Moreover, Gabbert added, violations would result in the closure of the facility.
The whole purpose of a waste transfer station, he continued, “is shorter trips.” People “would much rather come here than go all the way down to [the county’s landfill on Knights Trail Road in Nokomis] and all the way back.”
At his facility, Gabbert said, the material would be transferred to tractor-trailers capable of holding 100 cubic yards and then taken to the appropriate places.
“It’s a freight movement business,” Gabbert noted, adding that the sorting slab would be only 150 feet by 200 feet, which would rule out long-term storage of materials. That space was critical to the efficiency of the operation, he explained.
Traffic issues cited
The four speakers who addressed the County Commission during the public hearing on Oct. 14, 2015 all expressed concerns about the traffic that would be associated with the waste transfer station.
In representing Gabbert, Medred of Genesis Planning and Development testified that county staff had told the project team that the waste transfer station would generate less traffic than other potential uses of that ILW-zoned property, such as a warehouse operation.
The county staff report said the existing level of service for Palmer Road between Porter Road and Apex Road was a B, while the adopted level of service was a C. “Level of service” (LOS) refers to a driver’s perception of how congested a roadway is, with A being the least problematic.
The speakers pointed to the significant increase in the number of residential areas in the vicinity of Gabbert’s property since it was zoned ILW in 1992. Palmer Boulevard, Oren Rosenthal told the commissioners, “is a main thoroughfare to manynew and developing communities.”
Two other men testified that county staff had told a potential buyer of property in the Eastern Industrial Park — located in the same general area — that the person’s proposed business would not be allowed on the site because of the traffic conditions on Palmer Boulevard. Referring to Medred’s statement and Planner Wilhelm’s remarks about the level of service, one of those speakers — John Chapman — added, “I don’t know how [Palmer Boulevard’s level of service] got from F to B in a number of years.”
“I really can’t imagine it got turned down for that,” Commissioner Maio told Chapman, referring to the purported staff denial of the potential buyer’s project.
Chapman replied that he had documentation from his Realtor that would support his statement.
Tom Polk, then director of the Planning and Development Services Department, indicated that improvements over time can change the level of service of a road.
In making the motion to approve the special exception for the waste transfer station, then-Commissioner Christine Robinson pointed out that the people who moved into the surrounding neighborhoods should have understood what would be allowed in a Major Employment Center.
She added, “I’ve been in office five years and I have yet to hear a complaint about a [waste] transfer business in Sarasota County, so [that] tells me they are functioning appropriately.”
“This is incredibly appropriate for this area. I hear the concerns of the neighbors,” she continued, “but you have to deal with the land uses around you.”
She further pointed out of the Celery Fields, “It was not intended as a park; it was intended to solve [stormwater and soil contamination issues].”
Along with the traffic-related questions Tom Matrullo emailed county staff on May 2, he had a variety of other concerns, he told the News Leader. For example, he asked Loveridge of the Planning and Development Services staff whether the county will “monitor dust, noise, silicate powder, etc. of the new facility.” If the county will not be handling that responsibility, Matrullo continued, what agency will do that?
Further, Matrullo wrote, “Given the eco-tourist aspects of the Celery Fields Area, was the applicant asked to submit a sketch of how this operation will appear to motorists driving by on the Interstate?”
Finally, Matrullo added, he had three “judgment questions”:
- “Will the presence of the waste transfer station on this site cause community-supported amenities — sports complex, shops/cafes, nature lodge, wedding pavilion, etc. — to be more or less likely to succeed on our nearby public parcels?
- “Conversely, if someone should approach the County with a plan for an industrial facility on [the Southwest Quad],do you anticipate that an industrial usemight be more likely to be given serious consideration because industrial use has been approved for TST Ventures’ site?
- “Do you recommend any special buffering to adequately shield adults and children using parcel #2 [the Southwest Quad] for sports (tennis, soccer) or shopping … from any potential effects of the Waste Transfer Facility?”
Matrullo told the News Leader that Loveridge was quick to acknowledge receipt of the questions.