Letter sent from staff on June 15 to engineering firm representing company owned by James Gabbert
More than seven weeks ago, Sarasota County Planning and Development Services staff notified representatives of TST Ventures that the company’s plans for a waste transfer station near the Celery Fields were insufficient. Yet, they have yet to provide more details, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
That was the information county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester provided the News Leader in an Aug. 7 email. On June 18, in response to a News Leader question, Winchester wrote of the TST Ventures plan, “Construction is not authorized at this point.”
Among the points county staff has made is that, to build the transfer station as proposed in the documents TST Ventures submitted to the county in late April, the firm would need to obtain an amendment to the Special Exception that the County Commission approved for the project in 2015.
Additionally, in a June 15 letter, Kristen Hellman of the county Zoning Division noted, “The proposed slab for the waste transfer area has been re-oriented. Please demonstrate how this is consistent with the Binding Development Concept Plan associated with Special Exception 1739.”
On Oct. 14, 2015, the County Commission voted unanimously to approve the special exception to enable the owner of TST Ventures — James Gabbert — to build the waste transfer facility on about 4.28 acres located at the intersection of Porter Road and Palmer Boulevard, east of Interstate 75.
Subsequently, on April 30, in response to questions from the News Leader, Mark Loveridge, manager of Planning and Development Services, wrote in an email that staff comments on the Gabbert application for the waste transfer station were due by May 16. “There is a possibility that the project will receive construction authorization at that time, but in some cases additional information may be needed,” Loveridge added.
On June 15, Mary M. Stephens, land development coordinator for the county, sent three pages of staff remarks to Lawrence Weber of Weber Engineering & Surveying in Sarasota, to which TST Ventures needed to respond. “The following comments should be addressed to ensure consistency with the County’s Land Development Regulations,” she added. “Revised plans should be submitted through Land Development Services.”
She invited Weber to set up meetings with the individual reviewers if he wanted to discuss specific points.
Gabbert had planned to combine the property for the waste transfer station with 10.3 acres of county land he had offered to purchase, so he could build a construction recycling facility next to the station. However, the recycling plant would have been immediately adjacent to the Celery Fields, which have become an internationally known bird-watching area in the community. Thousands of people signed petitions last year, and hundreds held rallies, imploring the County Commission to deny the application TST Ventures had submitted to create the recycling facility. Gabbert needed County Commission approval of a Critical Area Plan amendment, a rezoning petition and another Special Exception to make the recycling facility project feasible.
On Aug. 23, 2017, the commissioners voted 3-2 to turn down Gabbert’s application. Subsequently, Gabbert notified county staff that he no longer was interested in the county land next to the parcel planned for the waste transfer station site. His offer to purchase the county had been contingent upon his winning approval for the recycling facility.
More details sought
In the June 15 staff letter, Hellman of the Zoning Division provided the majority of the comments. Among other points she made were the fact that the Special Exception “requires that all material shall be contained within the limits of the [150-foot by 200-foot] slab depicted on the concept plan, be handled on a first in/first out basis, and removed from the slab by 5:00 p.m. of the following day. Please demonstrate how this stipulation will be met through operations, monitoring, signage, etc.”
Additionally, she noted that the Special Exception resolution the County Commission approved in 2015 specified that the only materials that could be processed on the site are construction debris and yard waste. “Please clarify the type of materials to be transferred through the facility and methods to be utilized to ensure compliance with the Special Exception plan,” Hellman wrote.
Further, Hellman called for demonstration of compliance with the Special Exception stipulation that the facility would be open to the public only from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Finally, she asked for details about how the proposed 8-foot fence shown on the plan would “achieve 100% opacity per the Special Exception plan.”
The April 25 materials submitted to the county by Weber Engineering also noted that the proposed waste transfer station would be constructed in two phases, in spite of the fact that the Special Exception called for a single phase, as Hellman also made clear in the June 15 letter. The plans showed Phase 1 would cover 30,840 square feet of the total 252,743 square feet of the parcel; Phase 2 would add building coverage of 9,600 square feet.
An engineering drawing included in the April documents indicates that Phase 1 would involve just the waste transfer area, with a cover over it to be 45 feet high. Phase 2, the drawing says, would include a combined office/shop and a covered parking area for equipment.
Another note specifies that the office would encompass 1,750 square feet of the building.
Plans for the operation
In the April 25 Weber Engineering & Surveying drawings, the waste transfer and truck loading areas are depicted on the southern portion of the property, which borders a drainage canal. Trucks would exit the site onto Palmer Boulevard, the plans show. The scale used for weighing the materials would be adjacent to the Porter Road side of the parcel, the engineering drawing notes.
During the Oct. 14, 2015 County Commission hearing, Gabbert of TST Ventures explained that all traffic would have to enter the waste transfer station from Palmer Boulevard, because of a previous zoning stipulation approved for the property. Trucks would line up in an approximately 300-foot-long stacking area, with the drivers waiting to have their loads weighed and checked, he said. The operation would proceed on a first-come, first-served basis, he added.
After a customer left the scale area, Gabbert continued, the person would be directed to an area for supervised unloading. An employee would ensure that only acceptable materials were offloaded, Gabbert stressed.
The whole purpose of a waste transfer station, he pointed out, “is shorter trips.” People “would much rather come here than go all the way down to [the county’s landfill on Knights Trail Road in Nokomis] and all the way back.”
At his facility, Gabbert said, the material would be transferred to tractor-trailers capable of holding 100 cubic yards and then taken to the appropriate places.
“It’s a freight movement business,” Gabbert noted, adding that the sorting slab would be only 150 feet by 200 feet, which would rule out long-term storage of materials. That space was critical to the efficiency of the operation, he explained.
Transportation Planning Division staff members had two comments in the June 15 letter. They asked for demonstration of how “line-of-site compliance for vehicular traffic will be achieved at the northeast corner of the site” and “how eastbound vehicles, particularly large vehicles, will not encroach into turn lanes or any other lanes to properly access the facility.”
In red italics, the letter adds the following near its closing: “Any plan changes (e.g. additions/deletions) not previously shown or made because of staff comments, must be identified in a separate letter attached to the resubmittal. The letter must include a brief written narrative describing all changes and a reference(s) to the applicable plans. All responses shall be described in a cover letter and clearly identified on the plans. Review fees must be paid prior to or with resubmittal of this project.”