Development plans encroach on sensitive wildlife in Sarasota

“In a way, I built the relationship I have with my father as I know it today because of Celery Fields” second-year Matthew Brickhouse said. “We would just walk around the park and talk. The time I spent with him at the Celery Fields was invaluable. I think future generations of people are no less entitled to that same experience.”

Celery Fields, a 360-acre wildlife sanctuary in Sarasota, is the topic of county-wide debate after officials announced their plan to rezone approximately seven acres of land adjacent to the park to a 60,000 sq. ft. restaurant supply and waste storage facility.

“I know the plot of land that they’re planning to rezone,” Brickhouse said. “I’ve walked through it. If that was going to become a restaurant warehouse, I’d be sad. To me, it’s a part of Celery Fields and you’re just chipping off more of it. Who’s to say that there’s not going to be more chips taken out if it in the future?”

Over 400 recorded bird species – many which are endangered – as well as butterflies, birds and fish make their home in Celery Fields. Its open acres filled with native grasses also serve as stormwater collection areas for Sarasota County.

Celery Fields is also the home of the Sarasota Audubon Society’s nature center, where volunteers teach students and adults about local wildlife.

“This is the best birding spot in Sarasota County,” Stu Wilson, who has organized the Sarasota Audubon’s bird-counting event the past four years, said in an interview with Sarasota Magazine. “It has gotten statewide and even national recognition.”

The Audubon Society, among other local groups, have opposed the rezoning because they fear that the development projects will bring dangerous traffic on Palmer Road, which will in turn leave locals in a daily gridlock and pollute the wildlife habitat. At peak times, the proposed Restaurant Depot project could bring nearly 100 vehicles per hour to the area, while debris from the waste and recycling facility could affect the nearby park and elementary school.

Community members are also concerned that the ownership interests of the companies posed to buy the property have not been disclosed.

The development projects have been recommended for approval by the Sarasota County Planning Commission. The issue was on the agenda for the Sarasota County Commission meeting on March 1, but was tabled due to an overflow of comments from local residents.

“It seems like a lot of people were in support of saving the Celery Fields,” Brickhouse said. “Every acre does matter. Another acre could mean another ten birds that have space to feed. When you encroach on that, you’re affecting the entire community around it.”

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