County staff provides direction for far more detail in application for residential development planned next to Celery Fields

Among Development Review Coordination staff comments is note that project should include pedestrian and bicycle connectivity to Celery Fields

Five days before representatives of a Texas-based construction firm conducted a required Neighborhood Workshop on the proposal, members of Sarasota County departments and divisions who handle land-use issues reviewed an application for a housing development that would stand next to the Celery Fields.

The goal of those reviews, county staff has explained, is to ensure that application materials contain all of the necessary details those department/division representatives need to determine whether a proposal complies with the relevant county regulations and policies.

For example, a member of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR) wrote of the application, “Please include pedestrian and bicycle connectivity to the adjacent County-owned Celery Fields park in future site and development plans.”

The Development Concept Plan included in the preliminary application shows a lake/stormwater pond at the center of the site, with no details about the proposed houses.

The Sarasota Audubon Society, in collaboration with county staff, opened a Nature Center at the Celery Fields in early 2016. As the nonprofit’s website explains, “Once an agricultural mecca for celery farmers, today the Celery Fields is the county’s award winning storm water treatment area and one of the ‘birdiest’ places on the Great Florida Birding Trail. With 400+ acres of restored wetlands, it provides habitat for 246 species of birds and a diversity of wildlife. Stopping by the Nature Center will enhance your enjoyment of the Celery Fields with education, information and amenities,” the Sarasota Audubon website adds.

Identified in county documents as the “Smith Properties” application, because the owners of the parcels proposed for the project are named Smith, the D.R. Horton development plan calls for up to 171 homes on approximately 49 acres of mostly vacant land that is zoned Open Use Rural.

During the May 23 Neighborhood Workshop on the proposal, which was held via Zoom, Kelly Klepper, vice president and senior planner of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota, told the participants that the development likely would have no more than 160 dwelling units. The proposal calls for rezoning of the property to Residential Single Family 2/Planned Unit Development (PUD).

As the Planetizen website explains, “PUDs are intended to create a cohesive development plan for a large tract of land, integrating transportation systems with a variety of housing types and other uses, like park and open space and commercial or retail uses. A key goal of PUD regulations is to allow flexibility in deciding how to integrate these various uses, depending on location, topography, and the market for the development. PUDs thus allow developers a large degree of flexibility in where to locate uses as compared to the strict rules about what can be built in locations subject to most other forms of zoning codes.”

During the Neighborhood Workshop, Klepper said that D.R. Horton has negotiated a contract to purchase the six parcels that make up the site, if the company wins County Commission approval for the new community. A Planning Commission hearing will precede the County Commission hearing after staff has signed off on the formal application for the project.

A Sarasota News Leader check of county Planning Division records late in the morning of June 12 found that, so far, that formal application had yet to be submitted to staff. It can take months for department and division representatives to give the proverbial “All clear” for the application to proceed to the public hearing stage.

Details of other DRC comments

Among the other comments that DRC members wrote of the preliminary development plans, the Land Development Services DRC representative provided a series of directions to the development team, including the requirement that 5-foot-wide sidewalks be provided “on all abutting streets where sidewalks do not currently exist. This includes Raymond Road,” which is the primary boundary for the site. Moreover, the Land Development Services reviewer called for the plans to show “a typical roadway section” consistent with the UDC’s regulations, and he asked for “existing condition information for Raymond Road to the north and west of the proposed property to determine if it meets County standards. Road improvements may be necessary.”

The UDC is the county’s Unified Development Code, which contains all of the land-use and zoning regulations.

Klepper told the Neighborhood Workshop attendees that the project team would be undertaking a traffic study.

The Stormwater Division reviewer cited the need for details that were a major focus of residents during the Neighborhood Workshop. That reviewer wrote, “Approximately 100 percent of the site is located in FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] Zone A,” which is the designation for areas with a 1% annual chance of flooding. “Please acknowledge in the rezone application,” the Stormwater staff member added.

Additionally, that person wrote, “Please acknowledge in the rezone application that the site is located in the Phillippi Creek Drainage Basin within the Sarasota Bay Watershed …. Approximately 64 percent of the site is within the 100-year floodplain.”

That individual continued, “With the rezone application, please provide a drainage narrative to provide a conceptual approach for how the stormwater management requirements in Section 124-252 of the Unified Development Code (UDC) for the entire project site will be met for water quality treatment, attenuation, floodplain compensation, level of service, and maintenance of the historic flows at the time of site

development. Since the site is greater than 35 acres, the site will need to be incorporated into Sarasota County’s Phillippi Creek Watershed Model at the time of Site Development Review showing no adverse increase in flood stages for the 10-year, 25-year, and 100-year, 24-hour storm events.”

A representative of the Air and Water Quality Division pointed out that the land was used for many years for agricultural operations, specifically, celery fields. (That is the reason the regional stormwater project carries the name Celery Fields.)

In accord with Article 9, Section 124-174(a)(1-2) of the UDC, that DRC member explained that the project team would need to provide county staff “the results of any Environmental Assessments or Audits of the property, along with a narrative of the measures needed to remediate if required by Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).”

That documentation would have to be submitted to staff during what is called the “site and development process,” which takes place after the County Commission has approved a proposal. During the site and development process, final details are worked out about a wide variety of issues as the project team meets with county staff.

Additionally, that DRC member wrote, “Soil or ground water sampling shall be required at the time of first development order submittal for sites where historical uses include agricultural operations (fields and groves, cattle operations [cattle dipping vats or pens where animals were concentrated for the purposes of applying chemical treatments], chemical mixing areas, fuel storage and dispensing areas), golf courses, railroad rights‐of‐way, landfills, junkyards, or for facilities regulated as hazardous waste generators under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA). The Applicant and County shall coordinate with the FDEP where contamination exceeding applicable FDEP standards is identified on site.”

Yet another comment references a point that Klepper made during the Neighborhood Workshop. He pointed out that the county owns watercourses that border the site. Therefore, a member of the county’s Environmental Protection Division wrote that 50-foot-wide buffers will have to be placed around those watercourses, “from top of banks on each side …” Moreover, the Binding Development Concept Plan will have to depict them, the staff member noted.

Further, that set of DRC comments pointed out that Environmental Protection staff will need to inspect the property to determine whether any grand Trees exist on it. As the News Leader has reported, the county has regulations in place to protect those trees. Grand Trees are characterized on the basis of a number of details regarding their dimensions.

During the workshop, Klepper did note the presence of two Grand Trees on the property, adding that they would remain in place.

On behalf of the Sarasota County Fire Department, another DRC member cited a number of national standards to explain all of the details that would have to be provided in regard to fire hydrant installation, access to the site for emergency vehicles and the need for the firefighters/paramedics to be able to access the community through all gates “without the use of cards, tools, special knowledge or property personnel (guards).” That section added, “A Knox key switch is the required method.”

The Knox website explains, “With one [master] key, the Knox Rapid Access System removes barriers to entry when first responders respond to an emergency call. “

Further, that DRC reviewer noted, “Every building shall be accessible to fire department apparatus by means of roadways having an all‐weather driving surface of not less than 20 feet of unobstructed width, having the ability to withstand the live loads of fire apparatus (38 tons), and having a minimum of 13 feet 6 inches of vertical clearance.”

Yet other remarks came from the individual representing the Historical Resources staff. Those said, “There are no previously recorded historic or prehistoric sites on the parcel, and based on the poorly drained soils and years of disturbance from agricultural use, the parcels are considered to have low probability for the occurrence of archaeological sites.”

Nonetheless, that person wrote, “Based on the discovery of four prehistoric canoes in the late 1920s in the area of the celery fields, one or more site visits may be conducted by [Sarasota County Historical Resources staff] during earth moving, demucking, or stormwater facility/pond construction, and construction crews will be notified during the pre-construction meeting to be observant during activities for encountering a large log that could represent a prehistoric dugout canoe. While unlikely, several have been found and all have been lost. Such a discovery, recovery, and conservation by the state for display in Sarasota County would be a tremendous historic asset for educational interpretation.”

The DRC member representing the Public Utilities Department pointed out that the homes would have to be connected to the county’s potable water and sewer systems.