St. Matthew's House no longer pursuing Bonita Springs site for homeless shelter

David Albers/Staff 
 - Richard Yovanovich, an attorney representing the St. Matthew's House, speaks to the Bonita Springs City Council on a proposed 1-year moratorium on homeless shelters on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, in Bonita Springs. The council voted unanimously to approve the moratorium on homeless shelter permitting.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

David Albers/Staff - Richard Yovanovich, an attorney representing the St. Matthew's House, speaks to the Bonita Springs City Council on a proposed 1-year moratorium on homeless shelters on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, in Bonita Springs. The council voted unanimously to approve the moratorium on homeless shelter permitting.

Video from NBC-2

— St. Matthew’s House isn’t opening a homeless shelter at a proposed Bonita Springs site.

"Our plans to purchase and develop the property are off the table," said Vann Ellison, president and chief executive officer of St. Matthew’s House. "Because of issues related to the contract, the buyer and the seller couldn’t reach terms and we are now out of a contract in the Bernwood property." He declined to elaborate.

Plans called for the former Synovus Bank at the corner of Old 41 Road and Cockleshell Court to be expanded from about 2,500 square feet to 3,700 to become the St. Matthew’s House administrative center. An additional stand-alone building would be erected during a two-phase process. The charity had proposed 168 beds.

St. Matthew’s House presently has no property in Lee County under contract.

"Obviously, we are very sad because of the very fact that we don’t have the potential to expand in Lee County," Ellison said. "We are saddened that we cannot meet the needs of women and families."

Controversy in Bonita Springs arose this year when the owner of an empty bank building and more than 6 acres along Old 41 Road agreed to sell the site for more than $3 million to a private trust affiliated with St. Matthew’s House for a shelter.

Bonita Springs City Council members unanimously approved a temporary moratorium on permits for future shelters that went into effect May 18, after the St. Matthew’s House application already was on file.

St. Matthew’s House officials have been searching for a couple of years for a site to build a homeless shelter in south Lee County.

Plans to build a shelter at two locations on Old 41 Road in Bonita Springs, including the former Causeway Lumber site, fell through.

Mayor Ben Nelson said every time it has been a "horrible experience" of neighbors against neighbors and each time the community is happy to get through it.

"Our goal is to continue to formulate and set up rules and regulations so that our citizens don’t have to go through this trauma again and that way we don’t have to ever go through this again," said Nelson.

He said the regulations need to reflect the community’s actual needs and desires.

Some residents, including Bonita Springs Charter School parents, have raised concerns about opening a shelter near a school, and the possibility that it could lead to increased crime.

Ben Hershenson, a member of BSafeBonita, said he feels "relieved."

Now, Hershenson said the city has time to put in place regulations and standards specific to homeless shelters that weren’t in place.

As of Wednesday, the developer for the Bernwood site was still is in the process of moving forward with its development order application to build a Bonita Springs homeless shelter at the Bernwood property.

"We are proceeding forward status quo," said Charlie Maurer, developer for the Bernwood site and agent for the estate.

Maurer said they are waiting for a response from the city.

Despite the latest deal being off, Ellison said that the charity remains interested in expanding into southern Lee County or northern Collier County.

In 2011 Ellison about 35 percent of the people who seek help at St. Matthew’s House in East Naples are from Bonita Springs and south Lee County. There has been a waiting list since June 2007.

Recently, a donor offered the charity a 2.9 acres property adjacent to the existing St. Matthew’s House on Airport-Pulling Road.

The shelter cannot built a homeless shelter on the former DeVoe used car lot because of zoning constraints. Ellison said the charity knows that the charity doesn’t want to expand the soup kitchen, nor open a detox center.

"Right now there are no plans on the property," he said. "We are going to evaluate and try to draw up preliminary plans."

Continue to follow this story at naplesnews.com.

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