By Peter Simmons
I would like to thank the Southwest Spotlight newspaper for asking me to contribute to this month’s City Council Corner. Councilman Steve McIntosh provided the inaugural column last month, and
I would like to commend him for a great article. I would also like to quote part of his article as a lead in to my article.
“My opinion is that City Council’s primary objective is to protect and enhance the city’s quality of life. This demands both fiscal responsibility for the present and a well-designed path forward,” stated Councilman McIntosh. I could not agree more.
As one of your City Council members I want to share with you some major events of the last 90 days.
Many of you may have heard information stating that a homeless shelter could be located near the Charter School on Old 41 Road. Upon further investigation I learned that our city actually has no regulations in place for homeless shelters; as such I sponsored a one-year moratorium on the building of any homeless shelters in Bonita Springs. I felt it was necessary to have some guidelines in place in order to protect our children and fellow residents, as well as to preserve the quality and attractiveness of Bonita Springs as a place to live and do business.
At the City Council meeting on April 18, the City Council passed the moratorium 7-0 restricting construction for a 12-month period or until regulations were put in place. Many people felt that the situation was over and that now any new shelter would have to follow the guidelines the city established.
Please be aware that plans for a large homeless shelter have been submitted to the city of Bonita Springs. On May 18 plans were submitted for a St. Matthew’s House 168 bed shelter; the original plans were for 260 beds. The original plans were submitted to the city 30 minutes prior to the close of business the day before the city unanimously voted in favor of taking time to add regulations.
Apparently, this WILL NOT REQUIRE a public hearing in order to move forward and, it is said, is not affected by the moratorium. This is due to the fact that St. Matthews House has targeted a piece of land that was zoned almost 18 years ago, before Bonita Springs was a city and was governed as unincorporated Lee County,
The location is just north of the Bonita Art Center on Old 41; just south of the Bonita Springs Charter School with over 1200 students; across the street from the Hope Lutheran Church and Preschool; and immediately abuts Pueblo Bonita with 320 children. There are also neighborhoods all around the area full of families and senior citizens.
Our city has no regulations in place for this type of facility, so anyone could stay there, regardless of a criminal, violent, or predatory background. Most of these people are put back out on the street every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Furthermore, a large facility like this does little to decrease homelessness in the long run, but instead could make Bonita Springs a magnet for the homeless. The Southwest Spotlight newspaper recently published an article stating that Bonita Springs may have somewhere between 3 and 36 seasonal homeless people – depending on your definition of homeless. I am reminded of the Kevin Costner movie, Field of Dreams… “if you build it…they will come.”
The Mayor, City Council and residents of Bonita Springs have made it clear that without any regulations they are very opposed to a facility of this size and type, as it would put over 1500 children at increased risk, increase our crime rate, decrease the attractiveness of Bonita to future home buyers and businesses, increase taxes, and put strain on our police, fire and EMS services.
As residents of Bonita Springs, we have a responsibility to protect the children and residents of our community, as well as our property values. Part of the charm and draw to each of your neighborhoods is the town in which we are located. Residents throughout the city are coming together to oppose this effort and ask St. Matthews House to reconsider their plans in this location.
If you have thoughts on this subject – and I certainly hope you do – please make your voice heard. Life is not a spectator sport.
Peter Simmons is a Councilmember from District 4 in Bonita Springs.