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Community initiative gathers proposals for land use near Celery Fields Park

SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - The future of the parcels of land near Celery Fields Wildlife Park has been a controversial issue for more than a year now.

The same group who fought against the debris recycling center that was going to be built there, is now gathering suggestions from community members to see what they'd prefer instead. 

"We call this the Siesta Beach of East County," said Tom Matrullo, a citizen advocate. 

But instead of the ocean, it's 23 acres of open land just east of I-75. This county owned land was in the works to be occupied by a debris recycling center last year, until a group of community members got involved. 

"We had 85 people speak against it and we had hundreds of people in the gallery at the commissioner's meeting," said Gary Walsh, a member of the citizen's group, 'Fresh Start' executive board. "A meeting that went from nine in the morning to seven at night and we beat it."

So, no industrial waste facility, but what will be built on the land instead?

The citizens group self-named 'Fresh Start' said it got approval from the county to gather recommendations from the community.

Fresh Start said they're ready for the new developments to take over the open fields, they just want to make sure the public's input is included in this decision.

"Lets take a break and bring the county and the community into some kind of harmony," Matrullo said.

Fresh Start put out a request to anyone with an idea for the land and got nearly 40 proposals back.

"We've been surprised by the range of them," Matrullo said. "I'd say they start from the range of 'let's just create a buffer that will protect the area, keep it natural, put in a park, put in a public garden' to some who suggest, 'well how about a [grocery] market?'"

Other ideas include affordable housing and even a sports complex, but whatever it ends up being, this group said they're just here to be a facilitator between the county and the public. 

"We were put in a position to rectify what was going to happen with this land, so we take it very seriously," Walsh said.

Thursday, Fresh Start is meeting with an advisory panel of architects, planning professionals and other locals who know the area well to look over these proposals and determine which ones are most feasible.

In this statement, Sarasota County said it's "looking forward to hearing Fresh Start’s proposals. County staff will be meeting with the group to discuss that information and work on a timeline to bring their proposals back to the Board of County Commissioners for their consideration."

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