Public outcry dooms new affordable housing

Responding to a contentious crowd of Navarre area residents, Santa Rosa commissioners unanimously turned down proposals from out-of-town developers to build two low-income apartment complexes totaling 166 units planned for seniors.

The proposals prompted 30 or so area residents to attend the Thursday morning commission meeting. They clapped and sometimes yelled support for 16 speakers from their ranks who voiced concerns that an assortment of ills would emerge from the projects—including crime, traffic and a negative impact on the value on nearby single family homes.

District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole unintentionally inflamed the crowd by initially speaking on behalf of the apartments—characterizing some of the opposition to low-income newcomers as “bigotry.”

Area resident Debbie Gunnoe immediately stood up in front of her chair—not bothering to make her way to the public speaking podium. She didn’t need the microphone to loudly admonish Cole. “I not a bigot,” she said, and demanded an apology.

Cole relented: “I’ll go on the record apologizing to each one of you for the comment.”

Soon after that the commissioners voted 4-0 against putting their stamp of approval on the 90-apartment North Shore Townhomes, which had a proposed location on a 9.5-acre parcel near Walmart at 9163 Navarre Parkway. The panel rejected the request of Tampa-based Southport Financial Services Inc. for a $20,000 government contribution to qualify the project for about $10 million in federal tax credits from the Florida Housing Finance Corp.

They also refused a similar request from JPM Development Inc. of Jacksonville. Craig Jeup, representing the company, declined comment on the vote but told a reporter the concerns voiced by residents are unfounded.

Opponents were adamant. Tamara Fountain summed up the group’s feelings when she told commissioners before their vote: “You’re entertaining adding pockets of poverty to South Santa Rosa County.”

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