A coalition of 50 homeowners presented a report to Sarasota County Commissioners on Wednesday suggesting potential land-uses surrounding Celery Fields, which is one of the most important bird-watching spots on Florida's Gulf Coast.
In November, after a split commission rejected plans to build a recycling center near the fields, the group was given six months to create a proposal for how the land should be used.
An outdoor-sports complex, an open-air pavilion and “Old-Florida” style shops were among the proposals Wednesday.
Now named the Fresh Start Initiative, the community group seeks to change the way people are involved in their local government.
“The creative input of our community and advisers has convinced us that there is a larger opportunity here,” Tom Matrullo, a member of Fresh Start, said. “With good faith of county and community, these public parcels will be a catalyst for a broader transformation of this crucial area that combines history, commerce, nature, recreation and daily life.”
Celery Fields is a premier bird-watching location in Florida. Members of the community protested that the land is sensitive to development which could disrupt the environment that brings birds and bird-spotters to the area.
According to Matrullo, Fresh Start is working to stand up for people that have to live with the consequences of their government. They plan to do this by putting a community voice back into land planning.
Fresh Start presented four proposals at the county commission meeting, but said they don’t officially back any. The original deadline in May was extended to mid-July, with a stipulation that the organization work closely with county commissioners and staff during the extra two months to discuss land use.
According to County Commissioner Alan Maio, there was little to no dialogue between Fresh Start and the county in the months leading to Wednesday’s update.
“I would have preferred something other than silence for the last five months,” Maio said. “I understand you had your work to do, but an intermittent meeting with commissioners I would have thought would have been helpful.”
With the extension, both parties hope to reach a mutual agreement before the July 14 deadline.