Cafe of Life is a step closer to having a permanent home to feed the needy.
The Bonita Springs City Council voted 5-2 Wednesday night to authorize city staff to negotiate with Lee County for the donation of a half-acre site and to negotiate a lease with the nonprofit association for Leitner Neighborhood Park.
Council members Peter Simmons and Martha Simons dissented because of security concerns they shared with residents who spoke at the meeting.
The council told Cafe of Life to have a neighborhood meeting where residents and property owners can see the plan. A public hearing will also take place before the approval of a lease, which will stipulate operating standards.
“I do not want to see strangers in my neighborhood walking around,” said Leitner Creek resident Sandy Edsall.
Her neighbor, Cindy Winske, doesn’t want the Lee County Sheriff’s Office’s efforts to clean up the neighborhood to be in vain.
“Can you guarantee that they will not come back in our neighborhood during the day while we are at work and at night while we are asleep and tear our properties apart?” she said.
March Talbut owns a rental property in Leitner Creek. “We’re going to take homeless people and walk them through your community. …This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of in my life. Try to do that in Bonita Bay.”
Bruce Wheatley, Cafe of Life’s vice chairman, said only about a handful of the 80 to 120 people it serves a day are homeless.
“We don’t serve people that are going to cause those problems. We never have. These are hungry people,” he said.
Wheatley said an open-container violation is the only incident that has occurred during its operation by the banyan tree outside Community Hall in the past seven years.
He said the nonprofit’s volunteers are the first in at 9 a.m. and the last out by noon; clients line up for hot food and groceries from 10 to 11:15 a.m. “On the way out, if there are any lingerers, we’ll make sure they get out of there,” Wheatley said.
Capt. Kathy Rairden said the sheriff’s office has worked with Cafe of Life to make the park as safe as possible as far as landscaping.
“We do anticipate that there will be additional calls for service to the area, which I think we can handle in addition to being in the area once the park gets up and running and opens initially,” she said, adding that the current location has been mostly free of problems.
City Manager Carl Schwing said the private security company the city contracts would also patrol the park at night.
Cafe of Life plans to spend $500,000 to $600,000 to build and maintain the park, which would include a serving kitchen, pavilion with grills, playground and basketball court.
The nonprofit hired consultant James Vail to design and conduct a survey in which 102 households, or 35 percent of the neighborhood’s population, were interviewed. More than 90 percent said they would like a park built in the area and would be OK with Cafe of Life using it on weekday mornings.