Consultant says county would gain most value from rezoning and marketing a parcel near the Celery Fields for industrial development

Miami consulting firm analyzed potential uses of ‘Northwest Quad,’ as commissioners seek to rezone and sell the land

An aerial map shows the Northwest Quad outlined in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office

Late last fall, the Sarasota County commissioners discussed selling surplus land to raise money to fill gaps they were anticipating in their 2019 fiscal year budget. During that Nov. 28, 2017 budget workshop, Commissioner Alan Maio won approval for a proposal regarding three “Quads” parcels the county owns next to the Celery Fields.

Controversy had ensued earlier that year, when James Gabbert, owner of TST Ventures in Sarasota, sought to construct a construction and yard waste recycling facility on one of those pieces of land, known as the Southwest Quad. (All three parcels had been advertised for sale.) Following a day-long County Commission public hearing on Aug. 22, 2017, the board voted 3-2 to deny Gabbert’s petition.

Only Commissioners Maio and Michael Moran supported Gabbert’s project.

Therefore, Maio suggested in November 2017 that the board allow advocates for protecting the Celery Fields to work on suggestions for potential use of the Southeast Quad, which is immediately adjacent to the Celery Fields, and the Southwest Quad.

Although designed as a county stormwater project, the Celery Fields has become an internationally known bird-watching attraction.

Maio also called for the county to hire a consultant to work on rezoning the Northwest Quad to a district that would be compatible with adjacent developed property, a portion of which is used for industrial purposes.

The Southeast Quad was to remain in county ownership, the commissioners agreed, as it was the closest of the three Quads to the Celery Fields.

The Lambert Advisory report includes this graphic showing the Northwest Quad, in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Aug. 22, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Department, reported that staff recently had received the analysis of the Northwest Quad and would be distributing it to County Administrator Jonathan Lewis and the commissioners. Then staff would seek direction on next steps, Osterhoudt said. “The board will give us that guidance on what to rezone it to.”

The current zoning, Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show, is Open Use Rural.

The Sarasota County Zoning Code explains the intent of Open Use Rural districts. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Prepared by Lambert Advisory LLC of Miami, the analysis says that the firm worked “to determine the Highest and Best Use of the property located at the northwest quadrant [of] Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road …” The parcel, which comprises a total of 9 acres, has two of those acres set aside as the site of a modern structure for Fire Station No. 9, the report notes.

“[T]he highest and best use of the subject property is considered to be for industrial development,” with an estimated value of roughly $1.3 million, or $3.40 per square foot, the report says.

“Though office and residential opportunities comprise higher density development,” the report continues, “their valuations are heavily impacted by the relatively narrow margin between the valuation of operating income and development cost.”

The firm put the value of the Northwest Quad at $375,000 if it were to be used for a residential project; for office space, the value would be $150,000.

An August 2017 county graphic explains the ‘Quads’ parcels. James Gabbert chose not to pursue purchase of the Southwest Quad after he failed last year to win County Commission approval for a construction and yard waste recycling facility on the site. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The report says the Northwest Quad appears to be able to support between 75,000 and 80,000 square feet of industrial development. “At this time, industrial development is the most compatible use relative to surrounding development,” the report adds.

Lambert Advisory pointed out that it reviewed economic and real estate market conditions in coming to its conclusions. The analysis did not take into account any regulatory restrictions for uses on the site, and it did not include an appraisal of the land, the report says.

Advocates for the Celery Fields — the Fresh Start Initiative — voiced concern this week about the Lambert Advisory recommendation. If the Northwest Quad were rezoned for industrial purposes, the Fresh Start Executive Council pointed out, the Southwest Quad would be surrounded on all three sides by industry.

For example, Gabbert of TST Ventures is planning a waste transfer facility to the west of the Southwest Quad, the Executive Council noted. Additionally, the Fresh Start group wrote, privately owned warehouses stand immediately to the south of the Southwest Quad. The Executive Council says it fears that if the Northwest Quad is used for industrial purposes, “[p]rivate interests will use this ‘enveloping zoning’ to argue for making [the Southwest Quad] industrial.”

“‘The 49-page [Lambert Advisory] report … mentioned the Celery Fields twice in passing, but offered no analysis of potential impacts,” Tom Matrullo, one of the leaders of the Fresh Start Initiative, wrote in a press release the group has issued. The report “‘also failed to [address] traffic issues from large industrial trucks,’” he added in the release.

This is the view of the Celery Fields to the west, as seen from ‘Mt. Celery,’ a mound on the property that is popular for exercise enthusiasts and bird-watchers. Image courtesy Fresh Start Initiative

Leaders of The Fresh Start Initiative are scheduled to present an update to the County Commission on Sept. 12 in response to a board request in April to refine the group’s recommendations for both the Southeast and Southwest Quads.

In response to a request for an update on TST Ventures’ plans for the property next to the Southwest Quad, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester told The Sarasota News Leaderin a Sept. 6 email that county staff members met with representatives of the company several weeks ago. The meeting was held to discuss staff requests for more information about the updated site plan TST Ventures submitted to the county in April. Since that recent discussion, Winchester added, staff has heard no more from TST Ventures.

Other considerations

The Northwest Quad is capable of supporting a mix of commercial and residential uses, the Lambert Advisory report says. “Both Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road provide accessibility to the property and serve as secondary roadways within the surrounding area,” the report points out.

However, though the parcel is not far from Interstate 75, the report notes, the closest interchanges to the north and south “are roughly 2.0 and 2.5 miles, respectively.”

And while Palmer Boulevard “is a notable east/west thoroughfare traversing underneath I-75,” the report continues, “it has [an] average daily traffic (ADT) count of between 5,000 and 10,000, which is [considered] low from the standpoint of supporting retail and business activity.

The Lambert Advisory report does note that, beyond a five-year horizon, office and residential other uses may become more viable on the Northwest Quad as larger-scale development continues to push east,” including projects that will be part of the Fruitville Initiative.

Lambert Advisory estimates that the site could accommodate up to 120,000 square feet of office space, with surface parking.

A chart in the Lambert Advisory report provides an industrial market snapshot for Sarasota County. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Based on the county’s Future Land Use Map for the area, which allows for high-density residential development on the parcel, the maximum threshold would appear to be 13 units per acre, or about 117 total units, the report adds.

“Purely from a market perspective,” the report says, demand in the surrounding area would support that level of multi-family residential development. However, because of the adjacent industrial and commercial development — as well as the lack of proximate services and amenities for residents — the Northwest Quad at this time would not be conducive for “quality, market-rate residential product,” Lambert Advisory adds.

Taking into consideration the size and location of the property, the report notes, the Northwest Quad could be used for recreational and/or cultural purposes. Yet, such a use might end up necessitating subsidies from the county, if the proposed facilities required “significant vertical development.”

More details offered about industrial space demand

A chart in the Lambert Advisory report provides a survey of select industrial properties in Sarasota County, using information from the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office

Using data from the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office, Lambert Advisory notes that the county has seen the development of about 14.8 million square feet of industrial space since 1990. The largest portion of that, the report continues — 44% — “was delivered from 2000 through 2006.” Then, from 2007 through 2011, another 2.44 million square feet of industrial space was developed, the report adds. From 2012 through 2016, 924,500 more square feet of industrial space was completed.

Projections from Sarasota County staff and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity show the demand for industrial-related employment rising by approximately 570 jobs per year from 2017 to 2025, the report says. That figure is based on analyses of five major sectors: construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, and other services. The latter, the report explains, include auto repair and machine repair businesses.

The report also says that, accounting for “fluctuations and variability that are naturally a part of any forecasting analysis, we apply a moderate and upper range” to the estimate for annual demand for industrial space in the county. As a result, the report notes, that estimate is 310,000 square feet to 425,000 square feet per year from 2017 to 2025.