Concerned Bonita residents know homeless center issue not going away

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Homeless center to Bonita Springs?

St. Matthew's House to Bonita Springs?

— The Concerned Citizens of Bonita Springs are breathing a sigh of relief - but only for today.

The group’s leader said the news that St. Matthew’s House organizers have temporarily scrapped plans to build a homeless center in the city is just that -- temporary.

“I expect the proponents are going to continue to pursue Bonita Springs, whether there’s a need, or not,” said Konrad Schultz, leader of the Concerned Citizens of Bonita Springs.

The CCOBS is an organization composed of more than 100 residents near the proposed site of the St. Matthew’s House homeless center.

Schultz is right. The fight for a homeless center is not over yet.

Vann Ellison, president of the St. Matthew House homeless center in East Naples said late Wednesday night that they will no longer be pursuing the Causeway Lumbar site near the intersection of Bonita Beach and Old 41 roads. But, Ellison said, that does not mean a center will not be coming to Bonita Springs.

“It’s just the economics of it. It’s the cost of the developing that specific site,” Ellison said. “We are still focused on accomplishing our mission,”

On Thursday, Ellison would not elaborate beyond citing financial concerns for the withdrawal, but said the major donor is still involved.

When Ellison approved a contract to purchase the 8.8 acre site at 28200 Old 41 Road, he said an anonymous donor was fronting the near $2.6 million necessary for the site. The entire project - construction and operation - could cost upwards of $10 million, Ellison said.

Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson said that an individual pulling a zoning application is not uncommon.

“I look at this pragmatically,” Nelson said. “It was somebody making a zoning application and decided not to do it, it happens quite often.”

Nelson said in the process of garnering approval for the zoning application, people either grow impatient, run out of money or realize something within the process about the property and bail out.

Ellison said there have been no issues with the owners of the Causeway Lumbar site.

“It’s just what it would cost for us to build at that site,” Ellison said. “The specific details are just something we can’t reveal at this time.”

Nelson said Ellison came to him and City Manager Carl Schwing nearly two weeks ago and told them they would most likely not continue to pursue the site for financial reasons.

Ellison said it was officially decided internally a week ago. He planned on alerting the city on Friday, until news broke late Wednesday night.

“What I think is going to end up happening is that they’re going to look, look and look for a place that has the appropriate zoning,” Nelson said of Ellison’s goal to bring a homeless center to Bonita Springs.

Nelson also said if they do find a place, St. Matthew’s House officials will not be sharing it publicly.

“If there is one thing that everyone can agree upon it’s that this has been a horrible experience,” Nelson said. “If they’ve learned something here, it’s that they’re not going to share that information with anybody.”

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