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Sarasota Commissioners Vote To Preserve Land Near Celery Fields

Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
The Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously to turn the area next to Celery Fields into a conservation easement. STEVE NEWBORN/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

Sarasota County commissioners decided on Wednesday to side with residents and prevent the industrial rezoning of an area adjacent to the 400-acre Celery Fields wildlife reserve. 

The decision brings to an end a two-year battle among those who were pushing to develop the four parcels, known as the Quads and county residents, who have been fighting to protect the properties as a green buffer between the fields and local industrial zones.

The Celery Fields reserve is home to more than 240 bird species and is a landmark on the Great Florida Birding Trail

“These areas are not passive, they’re active; and they are active for human beings to create habitats for non-human beings. That’s an important part of this,” said Larry Grossman, a Sarasota resident.

County commissioners have been considering selling the fields to developers since 2017 when local businessman Jim Gabbert expressed his desire to expand his waste transfer facility into the public land.

RELATED: WUSF's coverage of the Celery Fields dispute.

The "Quads" are currently empty parcels of land adjacent to the bird-watching reserve, Celery Fields. COURTESY SARASOTA COUNTY COMMISSION

Now, the Gulf Coast Conservation Foundation and the Sarasota Audubon Society want to transform the area into a park with trails and bike paths that they say will better serve the community.

“The Celery Fields are visited each year by an estimated 100,000 people,” said Jeanne Dubi of the Sarasota Audubon Society. “Many of whom are bird and wildlife watchers, as well as wildlife photographers, walkers, joggers, hill climbers, bikers, and horse riders.”

While the northwest parcel already includes plans for a new fire station, commissioners decided to work with the local organizations and turn the northeast, southeast, and southwest parcels into a conservation easement.

The decision was met with applause from residents in the audience.

“The involvement of these two organizations is going to make this special and unique, something that we, as residents of Sarasota County, can look to,” said County Commission Chair Charles D. Hines.

Alysia Cruz is the WUSF Stephen Noble news intern for the fall 2019 semester. She earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of South Florida in Communication and is now enrolled at USF St. Petersburg, pursuing her Master’s in Digital Journalism & Design concentrating on food writing.