May 14 workshop first step in analyzing potential future development around the Celery Fields

Sarasota County staff seeking public participation in session at Church of Hope on Wendell Kent Road

A graphic shows the three ‘Quads’ parcels (outlined in red) originally under consideration for sale as surplus land. The Northeast Quad is home to a stormwater pond. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Tuesday, May 14, Sarasota County staff will hold a workshop to begin discussions that could lead to new policies regarding development in the vicinity of the Celery Fields.

Formally, the event will focus on an analysis of the Critical Area Plan (CAP) for the Interstate 75/Fruitville Road Major Employment Center area. The County Commission authorized the scope of work for the study after a staff presentation on Jan. 30.

In preparation for the May 14 session, supporters of the Celery Fields have been at work on new proposals for the adjacent, county-owned parcels called the “Quads.” Last year, the County Commission allowed a group called the Fresh Start Initiative to recommend potential uses on the Quads that its members felt would be compatible with the Celery Fields, which has grown into an internationally known bird-watching park.

Although the Celery Fields was created as a major stormwater project, it is home — especially during the annual migratory season — to a vast array of avian species, its advocates have stressed to the County Commission.

Commissioners heard the final Fresh Start presentation in September 2018. After months of meetings conducted to winnow ideas from representatives of about 50 homeowner associations in the vicinity of the Quads, Fresh Start leaders implored the board members to take a commonsense, holistic approach to future planning in the area.

Among the ideas the Fresh Start group suggested for specific parcels of the Quads were an outdoor sports complex, a multi-use pavilion and buffer/visitor center, and an ecotourist lodge with a restaurant.

The commissioners did not ask staff to pursue any of the ideas.

This graphic shows the area of the Fruitville Road/I-75 Major Employment Center CAP and surrounding areas. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Additionally, in late November 2017, the commissioners directed staff to hire a consultant to analyze the potential for the sale and development of the county-owned Northwest Quad. After listening to an October 2018 presentation on the resulting report, then-Commissioner Paul Caragiulo cited ongoing concerns about the insufficiency of the road infrastructure in the area of the Quads to support any development. He indicated that a new industrial use — as the consulting firm, Lambert Advisory LLC of Miami, had suggested — could lead to greater safety issues.

Addressing Eric Luff, a principal of Lambert Advisory, Caragiulo referred to the area of Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road, saying that “just about anything [except] a lemonade stand not seating more than five people” would exacerbate the traffic problems.

Caragiulo then won unanimous support from his colleagues for staff to reopen the CAP that governs development of the area near Fruitville Road and I-75, so the Quads could be included in that CAP. The May 14 workshop is one step on that path.

The workshop has been scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Church of Hope, located at 1560 Wendell Kent Road.

This is one vista from the Celery Fields in eastern Sarasota County. image courtesy Sarasota County

A county news release about the session explains, “The purpose of this workshop is to provide the public information on the nature of the CAP study, and for staff to hear public comment on the study and other issues of concern in the area.”

Those unable to attend the workshop who would like to offer comments or ideas may mail them to Planning Services, 1660 Ringling Blvd., 1st Floor, Sarasota, FL 34236; email them to Planner@scgov.net; or call the county Contact Center at 861-5000, the release points out.

“Background information and supporting documents for the workshop can be found on the Planning and Development Services Calendar online at https://www.scgov.net/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/10155/5467or www.scgov.net; keyword: PDS Calendar, the release adds.

Proposals aplenty

The Planning and Development Services webpage already lists a number of proposals people have submitted for consideration as part of the CAP analysis.

Last year, the YMCA proposed a sports complex on one of the county-owned parcels next to the Celery Fields. Image courtesy Fresh Start Initiative

Further, leaders of the Fresh Start Initiative have offered comments in advance of the workshop. “The public record of this workshop goes to the [County Commission], which will decide the future of these public lands,” they wrote. Among their concerns, they added, are the following, with their emphasis.

  • “Not everyone on the Board sees the point of using public lands for the public good. With thoughtful stewardship, public lands can provide needed public facilities and activities. Why sell them to enrich a couple of private developers?” (In late 2017, facing gaps in future budgets, the County Commission talked at length about selling surplus county property. The Quads were part of that discussion, though no effort is underway to market the parcels, pending the outcome of the new CAP analysis.)
  • Industrial uses will generate traffic, noise [and] dead space incompatible with the developing natural beauty of the Celery Fields area, and its recreational potential.
  • The scope of this process is narrow.… This plan should not exclude important considerations that PLANNING should be thinking about now, such as “future protective measures for wildlife, residents and visitors”; “the impacts of coming growth in East County”; and quality-of-life “benefits from safe roads and a tranquil environment.”

The following is a sampling of other comments county staff has received:

  • The Community Land Trust of Sarasota, which describes itself as a not-for-profit entity “chartered to hold land in stewardship for all mankind, present and future, while preserving and protecting the legitimate use-rights of its residents,” proposes the Celery Fields Community Estate (CFCE).
This graphic shows potential development of Quads 1 and 2, as proposed by the Community Land Trust of Sarasota. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This graphic from the Community Land Trust of Sarasota shows potential development on the Northwest and Northeast Quads. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Among the components of the CFCE, the organization says, would be additional public parkland, a multi-use conference center, a farm-to-table restaurant, a public pavilion and café, and tiny home developments.

  • Former Sarasota City Commissioner Susan Chapman suggests that the Quads be used as an auxiliary location for Selby Gardens’ greenhouses “and protected storage for priceless collections. A library could be built for the preservation of the rare horticultural books.”
  • Jono Miller, retired director of New College’s Environmental Studies Program, wrote that he would “love to come brainstorm” the following idea with knowledgeable birders: how to simultaneously increase stormwater capacity, diversify the habitat types at the Celery Fields, create two types of roosting/nesting areas over water, create a restaurant “with great two-story views of the roosting/nesting areas” and provide a place for birders to stay next to the Celery Fields.
  • A combination of a community co-op garden, a butterfly garden, a sculpture garden and an area with affordable housing for artists that would incorporate studios and teaching and production space.
  • Greg Para, who has operated his nonprofit Sarasota Parrot Conservatory out of his home office and a large sanctuary in Manatee County, wrote that he would like to relocate the nonprofit’s facilities to the Quads. From that location, he indicated, he could continue to provide avian therapy for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); undertake excursions with the birds to senior centers; and plan events for pediatric cancer patients.
  • Another person proposed a wildlife and bird rehab center, with, perhaps, a children’s educational center and art center/gallery promoting Florida artists.
  • Jono Miller and Rob Wright, conservation chair of the Sarasota Audubon Society, suggest that the county History Center could be relocated to the Southwest Quad, where it would have much more space to showcase its collection.

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