Joggers run up hill at the Celery Fields on Monday. Photo by Dan Wagner

Sarasota County delays Celery Fields vote

In a surprise move, the Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to delay the decision on a controversial petition to develop a wholesale restaurant facility near the Celery Fields preserve over concerns that the applicant had not properly disclosed the individuals behind its company.

The applicant, JMDH Real Estate of Florida LLC, has developed 10 similar “Restaurant Depot” buildings in Florida, according to the company’s attorney, Charles Bailey. But when he presented the disclosure of individuals behind the company, only a few personal names were listed. The rest were primarily large institutions, including the government of Abu Dhabi. With the provided information, Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy said it was difficult to say the applicant had complied with the county’s disclosure requirements.

“It’s not that it couldn’t be complied with, but I do not have the information yet that leads me to that conclusion,” Roddy said.

On Jan. 24, Roddy sent a memo to Allen Parsons, the county’s manager of planning services, stating that the applicant’s disclosure did not meet the requirements of the county’s charter. The charter, setting the rules for county government, requires any institution applying for rezoning under the county to disclose its “true ownership interests.” In this case, many of the commissioners — as well as Roddy — felt enough concern over the disclosure that the conversation about the merits of the rezoning petition could not continue at Wednesday’s meeting.

A new vote has been set for the afternoon of April 26.

“I don’t want to debate the quality of the disclosure; my problem is that there is a document in our packet that says this might be a problem,” Commissioner Paul Caragiulo said before the vote. “This applicant has something that needs to be cleared up, whether it takes five minutes or five weeks.”

More than 200 people packed the chambers for rezoning hearing, including some holding signs reading “Developers or people?” When the commissioners tallied the unanimous vote, one man pumped his arms as he left the room, saying, “This is a win! We have more time.”

The wholesale restaurant facility is one of two industrial properties proposed near the Celery Fields.

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