A plan to create a tiny home community for low-income and formerly homeless people is being met with suspicion and skepticism from residents of Fort Braden. a big concern about the plan is that it will bring the troubles of the new Kearney Center to the area.
The Kearney Center, near Pensacola, opened about a year ago. It’s the site of the new shelter which was moved from downtown. But since its establishment, residents have complained about crime, trash and loitering around their homes and businesses. Those are similar to the concerns Fort Braden residents have about a plan by developer Rick Kearney. He wants to create a tiny home community in the area. But the plan is getting pushback.
"It relates directly to our bear problem. If you leave food out there, they're going to keep coming back," said one man in the audience about residents of the Kearney center, and those who would live in Kearney's proposed housing community, called the Dwellings.
About 200 people attended the Wednesday evening town hall meeting on the project. The plan consists of 150 small homes and green spaces. Kearney tried to defend his project.
"Most of the people here, I don't know if we could do a survey about the Pensacola Street issue, but as advertised, this is about the Dwellings on 20. I know they're related, and I know a lot of people have questions," Kearney started, but was interrupted by a woman who says, "you haven't fixed that problem. How do you fix this problem with the Dwellings when you haven't fixed that problem?" She said, referring to the homeless shelter, named after Kearney, that's located on Pensacola Street.
The shelter was relocated to Pensacola last year, after its original location downtown was shut down. But people who live and work around the new shelter site have complained about loitering, trash and crime. They have blamed the shelter's residents. A man attending the meeting says he drives Pensacola Street daily. And he doesn't believe Rick Kearney is taking the community's concerns seriously.
“You just had a half hour infomercial making people look horrible if they’re against your cause….this is not a “not in my backyard thing.’ Was there no property where you live?”
They argue Fort Braden doesn’t have the infrastructure to support such a community. Blountstown Highway is only two lanes, and getting back and forth can sometimes be hazardous—more so for people who may not have a car. Furthermore, they say, Kearney and others aren’t taking their concerns seriously:
“You just had a half hour infomercial making us all look horrible if we're against your great cause," he said. "The reason these people are against is, I drive Pensacola to and from work. I've seen people urinating in the middle of the road....you're not accountable. It happened because you moved them there. And this is not a 'not in my backyard' thing. Was there no property where you live?" he asked.
Kearney says no sex offenders will be allowed in the Dwellings. And he also says residents will be screened before they’re allowed in. Those who violate community rules can be immediately evicted, and people will pay rent. But that may not be enough to give the Dwellings’ neighbors comfort. The County has approved a permit for the project, but that permit has been appealed.