Public hearing on recycling facility tentatively scheduled on Aug. 23 before County Commission

County Commission to be asked next week to affirm the date

An observation deck at the Celery Fields enables visitors to look out over the marsh. File photo

Because of the community interest evidenced at the June 1 Sarasota County Planning Commission meeting, staff tentatively has scheduled a public hearing on a proposal for a recycling facility near the Celery Fields as the lone agenda item during an Aug. 23 County Commission meeting, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

In a June 9 email, County Administrator Tom Harmer wrote, “Based on [the attendance] at the Planning Commission meeting a separate board meeting is being proposed for this hearing.”

He added that, if the County Commission agrees to the staff recommendation, the hearing would begin at 9 a.m. in the Commission Chambers at the County Administration Center in downtown Sarasota.

During its June 20 budget workshop, the board will be asked for its official approval of the scheduling, Leigh Sprimont, commission services manager, pointed out in a memo accompanying Harmer’s email.

Regarding the suggestion of Aug. 23, Sprimont noted, “The applicant has indicated this date is acceptable and we are tentatively holding this date on all relevant calendars pending Commission approval.”

The public hearing would follow the board’s annual summer recess, Sprimont added, and it would be held two days after the commission’s final budget workshop for the year.

The site of the proposed TST Ventures recycling facility is on Palmer Boulevard. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The applicant is TST Ventures, which proposes the new facility on county-owned property located on the southwest corner of the intersection of Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road. During the County Commission’s most recent budget workshop — held May 26 — Real Estate Services Manager Lin Kurant noted that the county has a contract for purchase of the 10.3 acres it owns at that location, which would make up the larger part of the TST Ventures site. The contract is for $1.8 million, she added.

Largely because of concerns about inadequate transportation infrastructure in that area, the Planning Commission voted unanimously on June 1 to recommend the County Commission deny the rezoning petition and an accompanying special exception petition. The hearing lasted about six-and-a-half hours, with numerous members of the public taking the opportunity to address the advisory board.

Over recent months, public opposition has grown over proposed uses for county-owned surplus lands near the Celery Fields. Applicants seeking county approval for a restaurant supplies warehouse on one of the parcels withdrew their petition earlier this year after concerns arose that individuals represented by trusts owning part of the company planning the project did not want their names revealed. Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy told the County Commission that the failure to report those names violated county regulations.

However, in notifying county staff of the decision to drop the proposal for a Restaurant Depot facility, Charles Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota — the agent for the applicants — cited the “public outcry” over the county’s plan to sell the property to JMDH Real Estate of Sarasota LLC for construction of the warehouse.

Located at 6893 Palmer Blvd., the Celery Fields is an internationally known bird-watching park in the eastern part of the county. Its approximately 300 acres is also the county’s primary stormwater collection zone, the county Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department website notes.

The county collaborated with Sarasota Audubon to build a $1 million nature center there because of the Celery Fields’ popularity among residents and tourists. Opened in 2014, the facility is operated by Sarasota Audubon through a lease with the county. The county also added permanent restrooms and parking spaces to the site.

The total amount of area proposed for the TST Ventures facility is about 16 acres, according to the county staff presentation for the Planning Commission.

Among the material that it would recycle, the county staff report says, would be yard waste and construction and demolition debris (wood, concrete, steel and cardboard, for example). “No garbage, hazardous materials or liquid waste shall be accepted or recycled,” the report notes.

When the applicant held the required neighborhood workshop about the project — on Jan. 30 — as many as 200 people were present, the report adds.