Celery Fields Plant Denied, Aqua Vote Delayed



Sarasota County commissioners narrowly rejected a plan for a recycling plant near Celery Fields in east Sarasota, while Manatee County commissioners delayed any decision on the similarly controversial Aqua By The Bay proposal.

After an all-day hearing dedicated to a proposal from TST Ventures for a recycling facility at Apex Road and Palmer Avenue, Sarasota County commissioners voted 3-2 to shoot down the proposal, suggesting it was inconsistent in a surrounding area with homes and a popular area for naturalists. “If this was 1993, I’d approve [it],” said County Commissioner Nancy Detert. “Every town has an area where they send their junk businesses.” But with homes and the Celery Fields nearby, the east county area no longer seemed an appropriate venue. “I think you missed the market,” Detert said. Commissioners Charles Hines and Paul Caragiulo also voted against the plan.

The proposal had the support of county planners but the Sarasota County Planning Commission had recommended denial. TST Ventures officials said the facility would be state-of-the-art and generate minimal traffic or environmental disruption. County Commissioner Michael Moran, who supported the proposal along with Commissioner Al Maio, said tremendous misinformation about the project had been shared in the public in advance of the meeting. “I can’t explain the fear-mongering,” Moran said. “It was unprecedented.” He noted that the project was closer to the interstate than homes, and said concerns about sound pollution has been exaggerated.

One controversy that followed the project, most of the proposal involved land being purchased from the county, which considered the land surplus purchased at the time the county acquired the Celery Fields. Detert suggested that, at this point, the county would be better off taking the land out of its surplus. Otherwise, there will be more controversy down the road about whatever any private sector developer wants to put on a site near undeveloped land on one side and light industrial uses on the other.

Another all-day county commission hearing took place in Bradenton, where Manatee County commissioners ultimately continued a hearing on the Aqua By The Bay proposal from Medallion Homes until Sept. 29. That will actually be the third meeting devoted to the issue. Medallion Home has proposed a rezoning to allow a seven-phase development plan on the 529-acre site, located between El Conquistador Parkway and Sarasota Bay, which would allow for 78,000 square feet of retail commercial and construction of up to 2,384 multi-family housing units and 510 lots for single-family residences. Commissioners focused their questions about the project mostly on environmental effects. “Any development at all will have to cross a wetland at some point and have some wetland impact,” said County Commissioner Betsy Benac. “The question I’ve got a struggle with is that this is a coastal wetland.”

Commissioner Priscilla Trace said she could not support the project with its current plans to build near mangroves. Commissioner Carol Whitmore ultimately asked the meeting to be delayed so that Medallion could try to address the concerns. The issue will come back before commissioners again on Sept. 29. Medallion founder Carlos Beruff after Wednesday's hearing released the following statement: "Aqua by the Bay is committed to doing this right every step of the way, and in the end, we look forward to being able to demonstrate the neighborhood's real, positive impacts. Supporters who have spoken up for smart growth represent thousands more, and we're thankful for their voices as we work to protect our area's natural resources and build a superior neighborhood with character and longevity."

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