Homeless housing project causing a stir at Sarasota City Hall

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CASL CEO Scott Eller walks us through the proposed Arbor Village project at the corner of Fruitville Rd. and Dodge Ave. Out of the 80 residential units earmarked for the property, Eller says 16 will be dedicated to the chronically homeless. (Source: ABC7 WWSB)

SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) – When Cemia Lamela first heard about an affordable housing project next to her home in Sarasota’ Jordan’s Crossing community, she was excited.

“We were like ‘Oh, maybe we can get an apartment,'” recalls Lamela. “It sounded like everyone could get it.”

Then, neighbors told her the proposed Arbor Village development would also be permanent housing for the chronically homeless, and her excitement turned to aggravation with the city. Lamela and others received letters in the mail about planning board meetings, but those letters never mentioned who might be living in the development, because it would violate the Federal Fair Housing Act.

Many residents in Jordan’s Crossing are spanish-speaking as well, and did not understand the letters written in English. Sarasota Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie says all future notices will be written in both languages moving forward.

“They didn’t think about the community,” says Lamela. “They were just going to sneak it in there, go around the corner like ‘they won’t notice.'”

Now, hundreds have signed a petition against the collaboration between Tampa builder “Blue Sky Communities” and local not-for-profit Community Assisted and Supported Living, or CASL for short.

Attorney Dan Lobeck has also filed an appeal against the city planning board’s approval last month, which he will present formally at the April 2 city commission meeting.

“This is the wrong facility in the wrong place,” says Lobeck. “The application indicates these will be some of the most severe mentally ill people.”

CASL CEO Scott Eller refutes this, and a flyer going around the neighborhood saying the 80-unit project will house 80 people with chronic mental illness.

Of the 80 rooms, Eller says 16 will be for the chronically homeless, 24 for people with a disability, and the remaining 40 will be workforce housing.

“That is not at all what a shelter is,” says Eller. “I’ve seen shelters where they have 100-300 people that are in there, there’s no way to screen or vet the people to see if they are using or if they have a problem or not.”

“None of that exists here.”

Arbor Village, he says, will operate similar to the over 100 other sites CASL operates across five neighboring counties, that treat over 600 people per day.

“We’re not having the problems that they’re asserting in this flyer,” says Eller.

The planning board approved Arbor Village last month, which is currently set to break ground this June, and be completed by June of 2019. The nearly $20 million cost of construction is covered entirely by a mix of government grants.

Lobeck’s appeal will be discussed at Monday’s city commission meeting at city hall. It is on the schedule to come up sometime in the afternoon session, between 2:30 pm and 4:30 pm.

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