Part of the property was left over after the Bee Ridge Road improvements were completed in 2016
Sarasota County commissioners have expressed optimism that two county-owned parcels left over after improvements to Bee Ridge Road and another piece of county property in the same general area can be conserved through a sale to nearby homeowners.
They told staff they are looking for a creative solution in response to pleas from Bee Ridge Road residents — in person and via email — about keeping the spaces natural.
“This is a nice amenity for that area,” Commissioner Charles Hines said of the property during the board’s May 26 budget workshop. “We don’t have to have development on every single piece of green space.”
“But how do we get there?” he continued, adding, “We’re not looking at [getting] millions of dollars [from selling the land].”
The estimates staff provided that day for potential sale prices, Hines pointed out, would not mean much as the commissioners tried to pull together funding from a variety of sources for several high-priority initiatives, including the purchase of about 7.5 miles of railroad company right of way for the northern extension of The Legacy Trail. “Let’s keep our creative thinking hats on here.”
During the workshop, Lin Kurant, manager of the county’s Real Estate Services Department, pointed out that a 4-acre site located at 6901 Bee Ridge Road has been valued at $280,000, while parcels on the northwest and northeast corners of Bee Ridge Road and Aberdeen Drive have been valued at $180,000 and $205,000, respectively.
Three Bee Ridge Road residents addressed the parcels’ future as they spoke to the commissioners that morning during the Open to the Public agenda item.
The property allows wildlife access to food and water, Ruthmary Williams told the board, and the natural vegetation reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
“Residents have reported sightings of Florida panthers” on the land on Aberdeen Drive, Williams continued, along with deer and a variety of birds.
Bee Ridge Road resident Mary Hasselbring said neighbors recently had counted five fawns on part of the land.
“You can’t develop everything,” she told the commissioners.
The property provides a natural buffer between the road and the surrounding neighborhoods, she added, conveying a sense of security to the residents.
When Hines asked whether Hasselbring and her neighbors were part of a formal homeowners association, she replied that they are not.
Finally, Doug Gilliland, who said he has lived off Aberdeen Drive for 30 years, talked about how green spaces improve air and water quality, along with serving as wildlife habitat.
Additionally, he said, he was surprised to learn of a 2008 University of Delaware study that found trees and landscaping along streets, as well as traffic islands with green space, reduce stress by “evoking a feeling of tranquility.”
Crafting a creative sale
Later, when Kurant began the discussion of how to handle the sales of parcels the county has listed as surplus, Commissioner Michael Moran announced that he had met the previous week with a group of Bee Ridge Road residents. They expressed “just a genuine concern” regarding the future of the surplus property in their community, he added.
In response to a question from Moran, County Administrator Tom Harmer explained that staff has confirmed the three pieces of property are not needed for any future county purpose; therefore, they were put on the surplus lands list staff had finished compiling since the board’s February budget workshop. However, Harmer pointed out, none of the land would be sold without commission approval.
When Commissioner Alan Maio questioned Kurant about the figures she had provided for the two parcels at Bee Ridge Road and Aberdeen Drive, she replied, “We haven’t got any bids.” Those numbers, she noted, were merely staff estimates, based on prices paid for comparable property located nearby.
Then Kurant explained that staff could utilize a number of means of putting those Bee Ridge Road parcels up for sale, including an Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) — either with or without a minimum bid attached. An ITN would encourage prospective buyers to propose specific uses for the sites, staff noted.
“I think our desire here is to get our money back” for those parcels that ultimately were not needed to widen Bee Ridge Road and install a roundabout, Maio responded, but “it’s not our desire and hope that somebody fills [the land] up with stuff that we could charge taxes on.”
When he then asked whether any law or county regulation would prohibit the sale of the parcels to a homeowners association, Kurant explained, “We would have to put it up for bid.”
“I think we want to be responsive to the homeowners there,” Commissioner Nancy Detert concurred with her colleagues.
Detert suggested perhaps the establishment of a policy that would enable the board to sell certain types of parcels to homeowners associations at reduced prices, though the Bee Ridge Road residents that morning said they had no such organized group. Moreover, a homeowners group “probably [is] not going to be the highest bidder,” Detert added. “So, really, our only recourse to respond to their request and maybe keep Sarasota beautiful is to just take [the parcels] off the surplus list and leave [them] alone.”
An ITN sale would not be based so much on the price a group would offer, Harmer explained. “The board has more discretion in that type of process.”
“The ITN might be the way to go,” County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh added. “You would have to put the property out there with some concept [restricting its use], which would, perhaps, drive its value way down.” For example, he said, the board could stipulate in an ITN that the parcels remain vacant.
“We could put a conservation easement on this [land] that would immediately drive down the value,” Hines suggested. “I would just like to have a little bit more time to talk about this. … I’m not necessarily thinking we need to keep it,” he added, because then the county would have to maintain it and carry liability on it.
“I’m on the same page, I believe, as everyone else,” Chair Paul Caragiulo said. He would be in favor of waiting to make a decision about the parcels’ future, he added.
“I think we’re all on the same page,” Commissioner Maio replied. “It seems to me … that creative minds can come up … with some sort of vehicle [to lead to the homeowners’ purchase of the land].”
When Moran asked Harmer whether he needed further direction, Harmer summed up the comments indicating the commissioners’ desire to sell the surplus land, but that they first want staff to consider options that could enable the Bee Ridge Road residents to buy the property.
No further staff action would be taken in regard to prospective sales, he added, until staff has discussed proposals with the board.
“That’s the gist of it,” Detert told him. “There’s just a lot of things that would have to be worked out.”
During the commission’s regular meeting on June 6, Detert asked Harmer about the status of the situation with those parcels. Harmer replied that he would check on that and let the board members know.
In response to a Sarasota News Leader question about staff action subsequent to the May 26 workshop, county spokesman Drew Winchester wrote in a June 13 email, “Staff has not met with the homeowners along Aberdeen yet, … but staff will be reaching out to them within the next month or so to set a meeting to discuss [potential solutions].”