County staff proposing building setback, height and architectural restrictions in accord with conservation easements approved for the parcels
At 6 p.m. on Monday, March 22, Sarasota County Planning and Development Services Department staff will host a public workshop to discuss the proposed rezoning of three of the county’s “Quads” parcels adjacent to the Celery Fields, staff has announced.
In response to pleas from the public, the County Commission voted unanimously in October 2020 to grant conservation easements over those three pieces of property. Before taking that action, the board members heard from Christine Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, and Jeanne Dubi, acting president of the Sarasota Audubon Society.
In gaining the board members’ agreement for the easements, Johnson said, “We were able to ensure that our future restoration on these [Quads] parcels will complement the environmental, scenic, recreational, educational and civic benefits of the area. … We will safeguard this existing wildlife habitat of the Celery Fields with additional trees and shrubs that provide different but complementary places for birds and wildlife to live and thrive and for people to enjoy,” she added.
During her remarks, Dubi noted that Sarasota Audubon will oversee “the restoration and management of [the Quads].”
A county email blast about the March 22 event says, “The proposed zoning change of the three Quads parcels to Government Use (GU) will allow uses consistent with the conservation easement.”
Among those uses, the preliminary rezoning application explains, would be “government, civic, recreation, conservation and/or education purposes.”
The county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all the land-use and zoning regulations, says, “The GU District is intended to apply to those lands where national, state, or local governmental activities are conducted, and where governments or other public entities hold title to such lands. Any lawful governmental activity is permitted in this district. The district includes a variety of uses of varying scales and intensities. Therefore, development of a specific site should be appropriate to the nature of the proposed use and address the impacts on surrounding areas.”
All three Quads are zoned Open Use Rural, the county points out.
Among uses allowed in the county’s GU districts are schools; offices; urgent care facilities; emergency medical offices; TV and radio studios; outdoor recreation facilities, such as golf driving ranges, mini-amusement parks, swimming pools and ball fields; warehouse and freight movement; asphalt processing or manufacturing — though “[n]o noise, dust or fumes from said operation shall be discernable at or beyond the property line and the operation shall meet the air pollution control standards” contained in the County Code; and heavy industrial uses “within a completely enclosed building.”
The preliminary application adds, “The area of government use is limited to 40,000 square feet on the east side of the [Southwest] Quad.”
It further notes, “There is no proposed development for any of the Quads parcels at this time.”
Nonetheless, the preliminary application addresses “possible uses on the northwest Quad,” saying those would be limited only by prohibitions “in any implementing zoning district.”
The Northwest Quad has 4 acres that could be developed, the document notes, with Fire Station No. 8 occupying the rest of that parcel. The available property would have to be rezoned, the preliminary application adds, so “traffic impacts for the proposed use will be measured and evaluated at that time.”
For the Northwest Quad, the preliminary application suggests the following designations: Industrial, Mixed Use/High Density Residential, and Public/Civic-Government Use.
Additionally, the March 22 workshop will include a discussion of amendments to the Interstate 75/Fruitville Road Major Employment Center (MEC) Critical Area Plan (CAP), the email blast says.
The event will be conducted via Zoom, staff notes. “This is not a public hearing,” the email blast points out. “The purpose of this workshop is to provide the public information on the nature of the CAP amendments and rezoning, and for staff to hear public comment,” the notice explains.
“Background information and supporting documents for the workshop can be found on the Planning and Development Services Calendar online at https://www.scgov.net/government/planning-and-development-services/pds-calendar or, www.scgov.net, Keyword: PDS Calendar,” the email blast adds. “You may also call 941-861-5000, TTY: 7-1-1 or 1-800-955-8771; or email email@example.com for more information,” it says.
The rezoning issue
The preliminary application that county staff filed about the CAP amendments and the rezoning of the Quads does note that the County Commission in 2017 denied a TST Ventures petition to rezone the Southwest Quad so that parcel could become home to a construction and yard-waste recycling facility.
Additionally, in 2017, a portion of the Northwest Quad was the focus of plans for a Restaurant Depot warehouse, the application adds. That rezoning petition was withdrawn after some of the owners of the company that submitted the application refused to have their identities revealed, as required by county regulations.
The Quads, which comprise 33.6 acres, stand at the intersection of Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road, the document further notes.
A 2019 study that county Planning Division staff undertook of the I-75/Fruitville Road Major Employment Center Critical Area Plan “identified the Quads parcels as a gateway to the Celery Fields and recommended a series of amendments to the CAP intended to preserve and enhance [that character],” the preliminary application says.
“Palmer Boulevard is a two-lane divided roadway with bike lanes within an [80- to 100-foot-wide right of way],” the preliminary application continues. “The open drainage and sidewalks are located outside of the right-of-way on the Quads parcels, giving an appearance of a right-of-way or street width of approximately 170 feet,” it says. “This apparent width of right-of-way continues east through the Celery Fields. This wide roadway adds to the general open experience of the area and is part of the unique character of the Palmer Boulevard corridor and Gateway that should be preserved,” the preliminary application points out.
Therefore, the document notes, the Quads fronting on Palmer Boulevard “shall have a Base Building Line” offset 85 from the centerline of the road, “creating a roadway corridor width of 170-feet … The location of the Base Building Lines generally coincides with the back side of the Palmer Boulevard sidewalks.”
The preliminary application further calls for all structures and improvements, including landscaping buffers, to “be located on the ‘parcel’ side of the Base Building Line.”
Moreover, the preliminary application explains, “From any location (observer point) within the Gateway area looking east, there are the expansive views of the open space of Celery Fields and Celery Hill.” The latter is the popular hiking mound.
“The areas of viewshed in the Gateway are … clear of structures and mostly clear of vegetation,” the document notes. “The portion of the viewshed that falls on the [Northeast and Southeast] Quads should be kept open and mostly clear of structures and dense vegetation,” the preliminary application adds.
“Areas of Viewshed are established on the entirety of the northeast Quad and the northeast 4.45 acres of the southeast Quad,” the document points out. “The intent is that within these Viewshed areas, the location of buildings, structures and dense vegetation be limited to preserve the views of the Celery Fields.”
Moreover, the document says, “Any building, structure or landscape material or feature that may be located within the Viewshed should be configured and placed in a way that will limit the visual obstruction of the Viewshed to the maximum extent possible. No opaque fencing shall be located in the Viewshed and the use of other types of fencing should be limited.”
Setbacks, building heights and architectural details
Another section of the preliminary application calls for minimum setbacks to be established in an effort to “further preserve and enhance the open character of Palmer Boulevard and the Gateway. Building setbacks within the Gateway will vary depending on the zoning district.”
Though the existing Open Use Rural zoning district street setback is 50 feet, the document points out, that would be measured from the existing right of way. Other zoning districts may have even shorter setbacks, the preliminary application says.
Therefore, it continues, “CAP minimum building setbacks will be measured form the Base Building lines and will help preserve the open character and the connected open space and views of the Celery Fields.”
Additionally, the preliminary application says limiting building heights in the Gateway area to 45 feet “would be appropriate.”
Generally, the document points out, one- and two-story structures exist in the developed CAP area surrounding the Gateway, with few higher than 35 feet. The Open Use Rural zoning limits height to 35 feet, the document adds. The only structure in the Gateway area that is taller than that, the preliminary application says, is the new Fire Station 8. (The grand opening of that station was held on Sept. 16, 2020. The facility is located at 840 Apex Road.)
“However,” the document continues, “other likely future zoning districts will have maximum heights that exceed the 35-foot limitation.” The GU district, for example, has no limit, the document points out.
Staff also is calling for limiting the building height close to Palmer Boulevard, which could be accomplished through a “daylight plane” restriction. A lower height — staff suggests 20 feet — would be mandatory next to Palmer Boulevard; height could increase as the distance of a structure from that road increases. The document proposes that 1 extra foot be allowed for every 4 feet of additional setback from Palmer Boulevard.
The preliminary application further points out the industrial/office buildings in the area do not provide consistent character or a model for architectural standards in the Gateway. “However,” it points out, “the newly constructed Fire Station No. 8 and the Audubon Nature Center building in the Celery Fields share common design elements of Florida Vernacular architecture,” including “deep overhangs and porches.
Staff calls for all of the buildings in the Gateway to be “designed and constructed with the form and material of Old Florida Vernacular architecture,” including sloped, gabled or hipped roofs,” plus deep overhangs or front porches.