Sarasota County permit issued for waste transfer station on site near Celery Fields

Opponents of project could pursue petition process for a new public hearing, county staff says

An engineering drawing shows details of the plans for the Palmer Transfer Station. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Jan. 31, Sarasota County staff issued the necessary permit to the agent for TST Ventures of Sarasota, clearing the way for a waste transfer station to be constructed on property adjacent to the county’s “Quads” parcels.

The Quads are next to the Celery Fields, which has become a major tourist destination in the eastern part of the county.

As news about the permit has spread among residents who live in the area, opposition to the project has begun to mount, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

Just last week, a leader of advocates for the Celery Fields praised county staff for the detailed analysis it proposed — which the County Commission approved — to determine how any development should proceed on the four county-owned Quads.

Although planned and functioning as a regional stormwater facility for the county, the Celery Fields has become known internationally for the variety of birds seen there year-round, as well as for the number of species that winter on the property.

Among the concerns nearby residents already are expressing about the waste transfer facility site plan are whether the turn lanes for traffic entering and leaving the property will function safely and whether landscape buffering and lighting will be appropriate and adequate.

As approved by county staff on Jan. 31, the site and development plans for the Palmer Transfer Station say, “Refuse collection, mechanical equipment, trash compaction, loading areas, recycling, roof-top equipment and other service function areas shall be fully screened and out of the view from adjacent properties and public [rights of way]. The screening shall extend one foot above the height of the object to be screened.”

The site plans also note that all of the walls around the property are to be constructed 8 feet high.

The News Leader asked county staff this week whether members of the public would have any recourse if they felt the plans were insufficient. Mark A. Loveridge, manager of the county’s Land Development Division, responded in a Feb. 5 email: “There is a process to amend the [County Commission-approved] stipulations by filing a petition through the public hearing process.” However, he added of staff members, “We cannot require additional steps since construction authorization has been issued.”

A map shows the TST Ventures property (outlined in red) adjacent to the Southwest Quad owned by Sarasota County. The Celery Fields is to the north. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser

During a Feb. 5 telephone interview with the News Leader, Tom Matrullo, one of the leaders of a group that last year represented 50 homeowner associations in the area, said he was not certain at this point whether any of the residents would want to purse the type of petition Loveridge had referenced. “There’s clearly enough public dissatisfaction, or actual anger” over the issuance of the permit, he said. Still, “We’d have to look into how that [petition process] works.”

Among their greatest concerns, Matrullo indicated, advocates of the Celery Fields are worried that if the waste transfer station is constructed as proposed, its existence could influence future county planning for the Quads.

Last year, the County Commission gave the group representing the 50 homeowner associations — the Fresh Start Initiative — the opportunity to offer suggestions about development on the Quads that Fresh Start members felt would be compatible with the Celery Fields. As they made their final presentation to the commission — in September 2018 — Fresh Start representatives emphasized the need for the commission to consider the entire area — and how it has changed over the decades — as they eventually discuss potential uses of the county property.

During the Feb. 5 telephone interview, Matrullo stressed that the residents who participated in the Fresh Start effort were not focused just on the Celery Fields. Likewise, at this point, many of them are not just concerned about the waste transfer station, he continued. “We are talking about the process by which planning occurs in Sarasota County, and that is a countywide issue.”

Commission approval in 2015

An engineering drawing in the site plans shows these details about the types of trucks that will be coming to the facility and traffic flow. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Oct. 14, 2015, the County Commission voted unanimously to approve a Special Exception that would enable TST Ventures — which is owned by James Gabbert of Sarasota — to construct the waste transfer station on about 4.27 acres located at the intersection of Porter Road and Palmer Boulevard, just east of Interstate 75.

Sarasota County Property Appraiser Office records show Gabbert has owned the site — located at 6150 Palmer Blvd. — since April 2015, when he bought it for $100,000.

During the 2015 public hearing, Robert “Bo” Medred, president of Genesis Planning and Development in Bradenton — who represented Gabbert — pointed out that a waste transfer station accepts material such as yard waste from landscape contractors and construction debris from building contractors. That material then is transferred into trucks for transport to other facilities.

A waste transfer station, Medred stressed, “is nota landfill and does notaccept domestic garbage of any kind.”

Medred also pointed out that an 8-foot concrete wall with “decorative precast panels,” a hedge and canopy trees would be used as buffers around the site.

County Planner Jack Wilhelm noted during the hearing that the types of allowable materials for the facility would be concrete, rocks, broken asphalt, land-clearing debris and construction and/or demolition debris.

Wilhelm explained that no long-term storage of materials would be permitted on the site. The proposed hours of operation, he added, were 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

This engineering drawing for the Palmer Transfer Station offers additional details about the traffic flow plans. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Gabbert originally planned to combine his Palmer Boulevard property with what county staff and the commissioners refer to as the Southwest Quad. At one point, Gabbert also planned a construction and yard waste recycling facility on that Quad. However, following a day-long public hearing in August 2017, the County Commission voted 3-2 to deny Gabbert’s petitions for that project. As a result, Gabbert informed county staff that he was backing away from tentative plans to purchase the Southwest Quad.

Moving forward on the other plans

On April 25, 2018, Lawrence R. Weber of Weber Engineering & Surveying in Sarasota — acting on behalf of Gabbert — formally submitted to county staff an application for the permit for the waste transfer station.

After review of the documents, county staff pointed to changes from the original plans the County Commission approved in October 2015. As a result, staff deemed the materials insufficient, providing detailed comments in a document dated June 15, 2018.

In late August 2018, Weber Engineering & Surveying submitted revised site plan materials to county staff.

Further staff exchanges with the company ensued, county records show.

Finally, in the Jan. 31 letter to Weber, Loveridge, the manager of the Land Development Division, wrote that staff had approved the plans submitted on Dec. 5, 2018. “Construction shall take place as shown on the approved plans,” his letter states. “Deviations from the approved plans may result in a stop work order being posted.”

The document does include a number of stipulations. Many of them pertain to air and water quality, landscaping, lighting and tree protection.

James Gabbert awaits the start of the Aug. 23, 2017 on his proposed construction waste recycling plant. File photo

For example, the “Lighting” section says, “All outdoor lighting shall be designed and located such that the maximum illumination measured in footcandles at the property line does not exceed 0.2 on adjacent residential uses, and 0.5 on adjacent commercial sites and public rights-of-way. (Zoning Ordinance Section 7.5.4.)”

Regarding air and water quality, the document points out that National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Construction Generic Permit coverage is required, “and that a copy of the certified Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) must be provided to Sarasota County before site work begins.”

Further, “All tree removal shall be consistent] with the permit county staff provided, “and all required tree plantings necessary to satisfy the Tree Permit conditions shall be completed prior to final site certification.”

The Jan. 31 letter also points out, “[T]his approval requires that all other applicable state or federal permits be obtained before the commencement of development.”

The first page of the development plans submitted to county staff on Dec. 5, 2018 notes that among those are permits for signs; a general permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), plus FDEP water and wastewater permits; a county Utility Construction Permit; and a county right of way use permit.