NAPLES, Fla. — The city of Naples took a major step today in approving two residential spaces in a commercial building.
It’s a concept the building owner of the Hibiscus Center, George Vukobratovich, in Naples said could be the answer to affordable housing.
Vukobratovich said the building has 15 spaces, but only two of the spaces will be turned into residential housing.
Naples City Council approved the two residential units under a conditional use. The rental period must be at least a year, and the owner must comply with residential requirements.
Requirements such as parking, trash pick up, and other building codes that city staff said the building is already complying with.
“Mixed use done correctly makes it a vibrant, more pleasing place to live,” Vukobratovich said.
Former Naples County commissioner Penny Taylor has been a tenant at the building for a few years now.
“It’s a start, it’s a first,” Taylor said.
Taylor was at Wednesday’s meeting to show support for Vukobratovich’s plan.
She said that in the time she served in the county, and the city she hasn’t seen this concept executed correctly until Vukobratovich.
“You talk about it, lots of talk, but he’s done it,” she said.
Vukobratovich and his family have owned the building for about two years, but he has managed it for more than a decade.
With the lack of affordable housing in Naples he said building some housing units was something he had been looking into.
“After the hurricane, with the need, I just had to do this,” he said.
A need that is echoed across Southwest Florida.
“Hurricane Ian, and what it’s done to the community, it’s exposed the lack of affordable housing in Collier County,” Taylor said.
Two units are only a dent in the housing crisis, but Vukobratovich said he has plans for more housing in other buildings.
“I'm hoping I can work with the city council in other areas and other buildings and probably work on this to make this concept more feasible in other places,” he said.
He said with the proper planning and the best interest of the community in mind it’s possible.
“We have to look at what’s comfortable for the community. In other words, we can’t just put 300 units in a building, that just doesn’t work.” he said.
Vukobratovich said the next step is to put in renovation permits with the city to start renovations inside the units.
He plans to have the units read to go within a couple of months.