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Manatee County inching closer to veterans’ housing project

Written by on Thursday, September 28, 2023

But an effort to delay a decision was only narrowly defeated.


 

By Dania Hefley

Original Air Date: Sept. 27, 2023

Host: Yesterday, the Manatee County commission started with a discussion of veterans’ housing. The room was full of veterans, and World War II veteran John Skeen led the pledge of allegiance. WSLR reporter Dania Hefley was there to follow the discussions about the project that was on the agenda – and the other one that was not.

Dania Hefley: The veterans housing discussion began with a 10-minute presentation that actually lasted 13 minutes., Commissioner Jason Bearden had asked the CEO of the Manatee County chapter of  Saint Vincent de Paul Society to outline the organization’s business model and its ongoing projects.

In the last commission meeting, Bearden had pitched the non-profit as the operator of a tiny-house community on  land he is hoping to use for this project in rural north Manatee County. Bearden proposes to use the lot on Buckeye Road, made up mostly of wetlands, for a cemetery and veterans housing. It would have to be rezoned for that use.

Bearden

Bearden said he has been “talking” with Saint Vincent de Paul about working together, but at yesterdays meeting the organization only discussed its overall business model during meeting, and no specific proposals for the land.  

One concern brought up by Commissioners George Kruse Cruz, Kevin Van Ostenbridge and Amanda Ballard, was that Saint Vincent de Paul’s main operating philosophys is a “Housing First policy.” Meaning that people with substance problems s, are to be housed first, before having to go get treatment. For the commissioners this was seen as a concern because of the potential increased use of drugs and alcohol on the property. 

With his pitch, Bearden is slowing down a popular $20 million proposal by Tunnel to Towers, a New York-based non-profit, to build an affordable housing project for veterans in west Bradenton – near beaches, retail and transit. Bearden proposed a motion to postpone a  vote on both projects until November, so that the board could make an informed decision, having all the information about both projects. Bearden’s motion was seconded by Commissioner James Satcher. 

Commissioner Kruse expressed his discontent with further delaying the issue. He talked about the west Bradenton project, saying that Tunnel to Towers have been working with Manatee County for over a year now, and that plans have been delayed time and time again. 

George Kruse: I’m not going to pile up on the motion, because – for one – we have been dealing with this for – what – 13 months now. Or 18 months since the first dialogue. We have pushed that down the road numerous times. I believe it’s coming back Oct. 10. They’ve already spent a lot of money. I was under the impression that any discussion on what we can theoretically do on that land at Buckeye, based on the current deed restrictions associated with it, is an ‘also’ and not an ‘either’. So we defer a vote on a project, when it was not an either-or kind of situation.

 Kruse also mentioned that Tunnel to Towers was supposed to be given a decision last week, after the commission in August tabled discussion for six weeks. 

G.K.: Timelines seemingly don’t matter here anymore. So if we set a date certain, it’s not going to be a date certain, because we had a date certain in August to bring back Tunnel to Towers, and then it got pushed. And then we had a vote where we literally said we were going to table the Tunnel to Towers discussion for up to six weeks. We literally said ‘on or before six weeks’. Six weeks was last Tuesday. That was six weeks. We made a motion to have a set time, to bring that back. It did not come back. And now we’re sitting here and have a time certain for Oct. 10, which we promised Tunnel to Towers. They’ve done everything they can. They’ve changed their whole deed, their whole land use restrictions. They spent their own fees, their own dollars, meeting all the needs of this board. Revising all the documentation. And now they’re ready for Oct. 10, time certain. And now we’re saying, ‘let’s push that to November or December’. There is no guarantee it’s going to be November or December. In fact, I find it hard to believe it’s going to be November or December, because this land is not even zoned to build a tiny home.

Bearden argued that the reason that it’s been delayed so long is because Tunnel to Towers keeps “changing their plans”. Kruse replied that the organization has been changing their plans to adhere to the board’s requests, not for any internal reasons.

To most of the audience members, the issue at hand is not having too much affordable housing for veterans, but having affordable housing for veteran’s at all. 

Seven Manatee County residents gave their takes on the situation. The shared thought among the commenters was that the board needs to take any kind of action to move this issue along. Here is what Tim Maes said.

Tim Maes: I just hate to see this can being kicked down the road again. Because if you don’t know, a homeless veteran is 7.8 times more likely to take their lives than a veteran that has not been homeless. So the longer we kick this down the road, the more chance that we can lose some veterans. I know our backs are not against the wall – it’s their backs. Every day they’re out there, it’s their back against the wall. We need to get this done. We need to stop kicking this down the road and need to get it done for the people who serve us.

 Bearden’s motion lost 4-3. The next meeting to discuss  veterans’ housing is set for October 4. , Uuntil then, affordable housing for veterans in Manatee cCounty remains in limbo.   

This has been Dania Hefley, reporting for WSLR News.

WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our half-hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.