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'Fresh Start' initiative submits proposals for Celery Fields

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - After successfully defeating a bid to industrialize Sarasota's iconic celery fields, a community group now has its own final four ideas.

The county owns the 22 acres of land near Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road, just east of I-75.

One year ago, this land was targeted as the new home of a metal and concrete recycling facility, until hundreds of concerned community members fought the idea and won.

"I love the celery fields, I value it. I don't want it to be harmed by incompatible development," said Tom Matrullo. "A waste processing facility, a warehouse, putting heavy trucks along this poor road? No."

Tom Matrullo is on the executive council of what would turn from a protest to a movement known as Fresh Start. It's a grassroots effort to preserve the Celery Field's nature and green space. 

"Instead of doing things randomly, or waiting for a developer to tell them what to do, I want our Board to say hey, you know proactively, what can we put here that makes sense to our people who live here," Matrullo said. 

So they took matters into their own hands, gathering over 40 proposals from the community on what it would like to see here.

Now, after months of researching which ones are feasible, they've turned in the following final four to the county commissioners - a community center with trails, gardens and a pavilion, a nature lodge, a mixed use development with restaurants and affordable housing, or the favorite idea, a YMCA.

"We worked with the [YMCA]," Matrullo said. "They came up with a beautiful proposal and we have focused on doing that because they have the possibility of funding it themselves. A $1 million building."

This YMCA would be the closest facility of its kind in 10 miles and for Gary Walsh, it would preserve the serenity of the area, which is the whole reason he moved here 10 years ago. 

"The 'Y' is perfect fit only because of all the kids out here," Walsh said. "Not only would it provide athletic facilities for them, but they do have an after school program in all of the facilities in the county."

The county said it has received Fresh Start's final four proposals, but commissioners just began a recess that will last until August. When they return, they'll take a look.

For more information on the Fresh Start Initiative, click here

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