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Strict laws, but not ban, proposed for Bonita Springs homeless shelters

Oct. 18, 2012

If You Go

What: Next Bonita Springs Local Planning Agency meeting on homeless shelter regulations
When: 8:30 a.m. Nov. 15
Where: City Hall, 9101 Bonita Beach Road


A consultant recommends making homeless shelter zoning regulations in Bonita Springs as stringent as possible without banning shelters.

“In a case such as Bonita Springs where you don’t have an oversaturation or overconcentration of this type of use, you leave yourself open to legal action when you go ahead and ban or prohibit a legal use,” said Waldrop Engineering’s Alexis Crespo on Thursday at a public meeting of Bonita’s Local Planning Agency board.

If a property owner has zoning that allows a homeless shelter and applies for a development order for one, the city’s land development code leaves approval or denial in the hands of Bonita’s community development department.

Under changes proposed by Crespo and Bonita planners, that property owner would have to present the plans in public hearings to the zoning board and the City Council to make sure they’re compatible with surrounding uses. In addition, a supermajority, or approval from at least five of the seven council members, would be required.

“Supermajority is good,” said planning board member Fred Forbes.

Board member Rex Sims questioned whether it’s a slippery slope to make a property owner jump through those hoops when he has the zoning by right.

City Attorney Audrey Vance said: “You can’t just say, ‘I have this vacant land. Aha! I’m going to build this one day.’ We have a right to regulate. We have a right to make changes to our law.”

Forbes said there should be at least 1,200 feet between social services facilities.

Resident Carolyn Gallagher said social services should not be clustered. “I think everybody in the city needs to share the burden and not have it in one area,” she said.

Crespo proposed requiring more stringent regulations for offender rehabilitation agencies and self-help organizations.

Resident Dick Draffone asked planners to remove “offenders.” “It solves a lot of problems. Why are we going to be required to have offender rehab in Bonita Springs?” he said.

City planners are also working on homeless shelter operating standards. Five residents said at Thursday’s meeting that people who want to stay at a Bonita shelter should have to show proof they lived in Bonita.

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“We want to help our own,” said Gallagher, adding it would put a financial burden on the city if people came in from different areas.

Resident Donna Stone suggested Bonita adopt a strict code of conduct for people staying at a shelter like that of the Pinellas Hope tent city in Clearwater. To be eligible there, the homeless must have no violent felonies, no sexual offenses and no drug-related or violent crimes within the last three to five years and must call for an appointment and provide picture ID, a Social Security card, birth certificate, proof of residency, proof of income and verification of expenses for the entire household.

“Please protect our citizens’ property values and safety by writing an ordinance that will only allow a homeless shelter that protects us and the residents of this shelter,” Stone said.

Forbes said the ordinance should also address how the shelter operator will be responsible for the actions of the people staying there when they’re off-site.

Chairman Don Colapietro said the final products will not please everyone. “No matter how this is written or rewritten or adjusted or stretched or pulled, there are going to be holes in it. That’s my biggest concern,” he said.

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