After several years of grassroots efforts, three plots of flat, open land near Celery Fields have been officially preserved.
In just 10 minutes, county commissioners agreed to dezone three of the four “quads” near Celery Fields to protect them from future development.
The northeast, southeast and southwest plots have been dezoned from rural use open to government use, meaning the land can now only be used for government, civic, educational and recreational purposes. .
Government-zoned properties allow schools, offices, emergency medical offices, outdoor recreation facilities and warehouses, to name a few.
The move comes after the commission voted unanimously in November 2019 to place a conservation easement on the three plots. The rezoning cements the conservation easement.
During the conservation process, a partnership was formed between the county, the Sarasota Audubon Society and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast to protect the 33 acres.
The Audubon Society now oversees restoration efforts and the day-to-day management of the plots under conservation easement.
Jeanne Dubi, president of the company, said the two organizations are working to create wildlife habitat on the plots. Design plans will be completed over the summer and fundraising will begin in the fall.
Dubi said she hoped the county would consider moving the county history center or parks and recreation headquarters to the southwest quad. Half of the southwest quad is reserved for government use which will be limited to 40,000 square feet.
“If this is a center of history, it will help keep agricultural contributions alive in Sarasota County. It’s a vital part of the county’s growth, ”Dubi said.
The Audubon Company operates a nature center at Celery Fields that offers a collection of fossils found in the area during stormwater renovations. Dubi said the two organizations could work together to create exhibits for the public if the county relocates this history center.
While future growth on the three quads remains limited, the future of the northwest plot remains less certain.
The Apex Road Fire Hall was built in this location, but it may be upgraded and redeveloped for industrial use, high density use, or public and government use in the future.
Dubi suggested using the package as a drop-off and pickup location for schoolchildren to catch a bus as residential developments continue to develop east of Interstate 75. Currently children are being picked up and dropped off. at the Celery Fields parking lot.
If a drop-off site were to be built, Dubi suggested that a recreation area could be added across from the drop-off site.
In addition to the rezoning, the commissioners approved the addition of nine conditions to the critical zones plan for the zone, including:
- Protections of the visual basin, including limitations on structures and dense vegetation on Quads;
- Setbacks from the road to preserve the open nature of Boulevard Palmer;
- Building height restrictions set at 45 feet in certain areas with daylight aircraft restriction near Palmer Boulevard; and
- Limitations of landscaped buffer zones, allowing them only when needed to avoid conflict with conservation efforts.
Staff also requested that future buildings in the area be designed with elements of Florida vernacular architecture, similar to the design of Fire Hall No.8 and the Audubon Nature Center.
The conditions are designed to preserve and enhance the character of the Palmer Boulevard corridor and quad plots, the county documents note.