Highway Patrol Substation in Venice under review as potential future homeless shelter for South County

County Commission gets update on plans for facility in response to Sheriff’s Office Homeless Outreach Team needs

A graphic shows the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) Substation on the Venice property that also is home to the R.L. Anderson Administration Center. Image from Google Maps, courtesy Sarasota County

Almost exactly four months after the Sarasota County Commission authorized a search, county staff has zeroed in on the site of the Florida Highway Patrol Substation, near the county’s R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice, as an appropriate location for a South County emergency homeless shelter.

Commissioner Charles Hines brought up the issue during the board’s regular meeting on July 7, noting that, at commission direction on March 10, staff had undertaken an in-depth search for a South County site.

That direction followed a presentation by William Spitler, coordinator of the Sheriff’s Office’s services for the homeless. Spitler had explained on March 10 that, in many situations, homeless individuals the department’s Homeless Outreach Team tries to assist in South County refuse to accept a bed at the Salvation Army facility on 10th Street in Sarasota.

Former County Commissioner Jon Thaxton, senior vice president of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, emphasized the same day that — like many others who have spent most of their lives in South County — homeless persons do not want to leave an area where they have friends and a network. “Ripping them apart from that network,” Thaxton stressed, would be counterproductive.

What prompted Hines to ask for an update this week, he explained on July 7, was a unanimous Sarasota City Commission vote on June 1, calling for city administrative staff to try to negotiate for the purchase of the Salvation Army’s 10th Street.

Commissioner Willie Shaw made that motion, indicating his belief that the Salvation Army has outgrown its Center of Hope at 1400 10th St.

This is the Salvation Army property at 1400 10th St. in Sarasota, outlined in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst

As he understood the discussion, Hines continued on July 7, one justification for the city commissioners’ decision was their concern that many homeless people are coming from South County to seek shelter in the city. “That’s not fair,” he said of that board’s view.

He provided numbers to the city commissioners, Hines added, which showed that the number of South County homeless persons transported to the Salvation Army shelter was small.

Still, he said, he wanted to assure the city commissioners that their county counterparts had heard their concerns.

When the county commissioners conducted their March discussion, Hines continued, part of their focus was on balancing out the homeless shelter needs between North County and South County.

Moreover — reprising Spitler’s and Thaxton’s remarks — Hines pointed out that homeless individuals will be more inclined to enter an assistance program if it is closer to where they have been living.

(When The Sarasota News Leader this week asked about the status of the city staff discussions the City Commission had authorized in regard to the Center of Hope, Senior Communications Manager Jan Thornburg replied in a July 7 email: “At this time, there is no update on the matter.”)

On July 7, Hines did stress his worries about the City of Sarasota trying to close down the Salvation Army shelter without having plans for an alternate location.

Because the County Commission would be taking its annual summer break from July 12 through Aug. 8, he added, he wanted to make certain that County Administrator Jonathan Lewis and other county staff members would be continuing to pursue a South County shelter option.

In response, Lewis referenced the report that staff had produced at the commission’s direction.

Facets of the report

Although 30 properties initially were identified as potential sites for a South County shelter, the May 29 report said, only 12 met the necessary zoning criteria. Six of those were not owned by the county, the report continued. The listing prices for them ranged from $995,000 to $7.8 million, the report noted, with sizes ranging from 2.02 acres to 7.92 acres.

Four other properties, which are available for lease, are located in a strip mall, the report continued, making them incompatible for the residential HOT bed service.

Then the report focused on two county-owned properties, which have buildings on them.

The first on that list was the Florida Highway Patrol Substation, located at 4010 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice. That facility is under a 50-year lease that expires on June 19, 2022, the report pointed out. “Thereafter, the land and buildings revert to the County.”

An aerial map shows more details about the location of the county property at 4010 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice. Image from Google Maps

Altogether, the county property at 4010 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice encompasses 36.94 acres, the report noted. That site also is home to a fire station and the Venice Audubon Rookery Park, among other facilities.

The report further pointed out that the site “is distant from the nearest school, located in unincorporated County and is served by a SCAT [Sarasota County Area Transit] bus stop.”

The report added, “Renovation for HOT Beds would require re-modeling and upgrades such as life safety requirements, kitchen/laundry, showers, sleeping quarters, etc. … Building condition and renovation costs are unknown.”

The second parcel is located at 1390 Old Englewood Road in Englewood, which is within the Buchan Airport Community Park, the report said. Comprising about 100 acres, it is 5.3 miles from the intersection of Jacaranda Boulevard and U.S. 41. Although it is home to two vacant buildings, the report continued, that site “is notrecommended for further consideration due to its current park use,” the report added, with emphasis.

This aerial map shows the Buchan Airport and the adjacent park. Image from Google Maps

One other parcel not owned by the county that had been under consideration is located at 2791 Jacaranda Blvd. in Venice, the report said. The undeveloped site is adjacent to Annex Road and 0.8 miles from the intersection of Jacaranda Boulevard and U.S. 41. The parcel is listed for $1,950,000, the report noted.

The zoning would be appropriate for a shelter, the report continued, and the property is within 0.1 mile of a SCAT bus stop.

The report did add that staff anticipates an annual operating budget for a South County shelter would range from $480,000 to $625,000.

The substation’s potential

During the July 7 discussion, County Administrator Lewis said he did not understand why some residents who live near the Buchan Airport Community Park continued to be upset about the inclusion of the Old Englewood Road parcel in the report, given the statement in the report that it was no longer an option.

(Hines referenced numerous emails he had received, arguing against the location.)

“We are moving forward,” Lewis continued, with an analysis of the substation property.

Photos in the county report show various views of the Florida Highway Patrol Substation. Images from Google Maps via Sarasota County

Jeff Lowdermilk, director of the county’s General Services Department, and Lowdermilk’s team had begun documenting the changes that would be necessary to transform that structure into a homeless shelter, Lewis explained.

Staff also was planning to talk with representatives of the Florida Highway Patrol to determine whether the division would be willing to terminate its lease on an earlier basis.

Additionally, Lewis said, a municipal representative had contacted him about the potential of a temporary location for a shelter until the substation property becomes available. Wayne Applebee, who serves as the county’s coordinator of services to the homeless, and Chuck Henry, the county Health Officer as well as director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department, are looking into that prospect, Lewis noted.

They have not vetted that yet with the Sheriff’s Office staff, Lewis said.

“If I misunderstood the direction we’re heading,” Lewis added, referring to the March vote, “I apologize.”

Hines indicated that that was not the case. “My expectation is that when we get back [from the summer break],” he said, Lewis can provide an update on the options at that point, both permanent and temporary.

Then Hines noted some of the photos of homeless persons’ camps in the woods in the Englewood community, including portions of the Buchan Park. “They are an environmental disaster,” he added of those camps, based on the photos. “They’re dumps.” Yet, he continued, “This is the way people are living.”

This is one of the photos of homeless persons’ camps that Commissioner Charles Hines referenced on July 7. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This is another photo of a homeless persons camp, included in an email that Commissioner Charles Hines referenced. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Hines concluded the discussion by telling Lewis, “You’ve made a lot [of progress since March].”