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Many Fort Myers council members say they are growing restless with slow affordable housing project progress

Project in the works for half a decade
Towels Garden
Posted at 8:10 PM, Jan 25, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-25 20:10:24-05

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Many housing developments are underway in the Dunbar community, including the affordable housing project Towels Garden.

However, many Fort Myers City Council members didn't hold back expressing how they felt about the slow progress of the project.

"Collectively, this body put a lot of hope into this project with land, clearing the land, paying for half of the lift station, committing to $10,000 to down payments for the units," said Mayor Kevin Anderson. "I just have to say it's been disappointing."

That statement from Anderson was in response to project developers asking for an extension of the Tax Increment Financing (T.I.F) agreement.

"Towels Garden has been a difficult project…it's been going on for what, five years," said Mike Love, who is working on the project.

He told the council what makes the development so difficult is the fact it's affordable housing and there isn't much profit in it.

Wednesday, Love and other representatives of the project pleaded with the council to extend their T.I.F. expiring in April.

Love said they need the extension to keep the T.I.F, which he says will make the project more attractive to lenders because it will show city support.

However, with the project being in the works for half of a decade, council members are getting restless.

"I don't trust anything of this project," said Councilwoman Darla Bonk of Ward 6.

Councilwoman Bonk questioned the path of the project and the proof of the finances. Love said he understands the council's frustration, but insists that lenders are interested.

Ward 5 Councilman Fred Burson was also hesitant to grant an extension, calling it "fluff."

Burson told the developers he doesn't believe they will meet the December deadline, because they don't have deposits of future residents. He says no lender will finance a project that doesn't have at least 70 pre-sold units.

This project will be built in Ward 2, which is represented by councilman Johnny Streets. He has advocated for the project since the beginning. On Wednesday he was the last council member to weigh in and continued to advocate for the project.

In the end, council granted the extension until December 4, 2024.

Towels Garden is expected to have 140 townhouses where 51% will be affordable housing and a park.

The development project will be on Edison Avenue and Veronica Shoemaker.