Second Neighborhood Workshop on proposal for 170-home community next to Celery Fields planned for May 14

Application for D.R. Horton proposal remains under formal county review

This graphic, presented to the May 2023 Neighborhood Workshop participants, shows the general area around the proposed D.R. Horton development site. Image courtesy Sarasota County

At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14, representatives of the Arlington, Texas-based construction company D.R. Horton will host a second workshop on a proposal for a 170-home community next to the Celery Fields in Sarasota County, a county Planning Division calendar shows.

The site, known as the Smith Properties, is situated along Raymond Road, south of Palmer Boulevard and north of Porter Road. Although the property comprises six parcels of agricultural land, encompassing approximately 49 acres, project team members have explained that only about 30 acres would be available for construction, given the need for a stormwater pond/lake to comply with county regulations.

The first required Neighborhood Workshop was conducted almost exactly a year ago, on May 23, 2023. Like that one, the May 14 session will be held via Zoom. To register for it, visit this link.

As of the afternoon of May 8, county Planning records showed that the application submitted to staff in August 2023 remains under formal review. If a land-use proposal has not reached the public hearing stage within a year, county regulations require the applicant to conduct a second workshop. In fact, the application for the May 14 event says, “This second Neighborhood Workshop is being held due to the passage

of time since the first.”

The D.R. Horton project has been controversial since news of it first received public attention. Fans of the Celery Fields and residents of the surrounding area have joined together in staunch opposition to the proposal.

Moreover, leaders of Sarasota Audubon have decried the plans, saying the community would prove disruptive to the wildlife — especially the wide variety of birds — that call the Celery Fields home, both the year-round avian species and those that make the property home during the winter season.

Although the Celery Fields formally is a Sarasota County regional stormwater project, it has become known around the world as a major bird-watching destination.

This is the Binding Development Concept Plan for the development, completed in July 2023, as shown in the application packet for the Smith Properties project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Nov. 1, 2023, the Sarasota Audubon Board of Directors issued a statement with the heading Raymond Road aka Smith Property. In bold, that document said, “A high-density residential development does not belong here. It will negate and undermine all the millions of dollars and planning invested by Sarasota County and its Stormwater Division.

That statement added, “Sarasota Audubon Society has invested thousands of volunteer hours in maintenance and in environmental education for all ages at the Celery Fields.”
Then the document noted the following relevant data:

  • 120,000 visitors to the Nature Center since 2015. Sarasota Audubon docents staff the facility.
  • 3,000 volunteer hours per year since 2015, totaling more than 25,000 hours.
  • 8,500 students since 2012 learning about watershed and bird identification.
  • 1,000 teachers and chaperones introduced to the wetland habitat.
  • $1 million raised to build the Sarasota Audubon Nature Center.
  • $4 million target to be raised for ReWilding the Quads parcels, an initiative of Sarasota Audubon and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which is based in Osprey.

The statement further pointed out, “Sarasota Audubon Society, with over 1,500 local members, does not want these huge investments to be negated or diminished by a housing development.”

During the May 23, 2023 Neighborhood Workshop on the D.R. Horton proposal, residents complained about the density of the community and expressed concerns that stormwater runoff from the site would harm the Celery Fields.

Bill Conerly, vice president and senior project manager for the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota — and a member of the project team — explained that county regulations specify that a new community must be designed so its stormwater runoff does not affect neighboring areas.

Both a county environmental scientist and the staff of the Southwest Florida Water Management District will be involved in reviews of the plans for the property, he added.

Yet other residents have voiced concerns about the constrained road network that would serve the new community.

In August 2017, then-county Commissioner Paul Caragiulo cast the deciding vote after a public hearing on a proposal for a recycling facility for construction and demolition materials, as well as yard waste, on a parcel near the Celery Fields. That facility would have stood on a 16-acre site bounded by Palmer Boulevard, Apex Road and Porter Road.

This is the view looking west from the Mound at the Celery Fields. Photo courtesy of Fresh Start Initiative

Part of Caraguilo’s concern was the effect the added traffic would have on the roads in that area. However, he also pointed out, “It’s just a question of comfort. … The problem is … once [the recycling structure] gets out there, it can’t be undone.”

“I’m a big property rights guy,” Caragiulo added. Nonetheless, he continued, “I don’t think [the project] squares with what an evolved vision of that area is.”

Earlier, then-Commissioner Nancy Detert had told her colleagues that part of their responsibility “is that we can design the best community that we can design. Everything’s changed out there [in the proposed project area] because of the Celery Fields.”

1 thought on “Second Neighborhood Workshop on proposal for 170-home community next to Celery Fields planned for May 14”

  1. A comment on the County’s apparent indifference:

    One might have thought that as soon as word came that Horton wished to buy and rezone the Smith farm, that would set in motion a county effort to examine the Horton proposal and to assess what challenges and potential negative impacts such a development might have upon a major public asset. The Celery Fields has had great success, but it also cost upwards of $50 million in our tax dollars to create and maintain. I’m thinking that if a developer in New York wished to build something that could negatively impact, for example, Central Park, the City would do a study to make such an assessment before allowing any such project to proceed.

    I have found no indication that Sarasota County has undertaken any analysis other than the usual DRC analysis. Why does there seem to be no interest in ensuring that this public amenity, loved by many humans and creatures, will not be harmed by the incompatible construction of an entire new neighborhood within yards of the wetlands nesting area?

    Does the county not see the importance of its role in protecting this major asset it created?

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