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Gatherings Grove temporary housing proposal discussed

December 5, 2018
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

A public informational meeting was held Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 17, at the Pine Island Public Library by owners of Gatherings Grove farm. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the potential project for building farm labor housing on the farm.

The 25-acre mango farm property was purchased in August 2017 by Community in Fort Myers LLC. According to Nehemiah James, a significant portion of last year's crop of mangoes was lost because of a shortage of labor.

"We have 1,300 mango trees on the property," James said. "More trees than the people on the property can harvest fruit from and last year there was a lot of wasted mangoes. There's a need for simple temporary housing and Lee County has a provision for farmer labor housing through a 'special exception.'"

According to Lee County website: "A Special Exception allows uses that are not normally permitted in a particular zoning district upon a demonstration that the use will comply with special conditions and standards for location and operation." The average time to complete the Special Exception process is generally 4-5 months.

The Community in Fort Myers LLC is a 12 Tribes property. Its website describes the group as "a confederation of twelve self-governing tribes, composed of self-governing communities. We are disciples of the Son of God whose name in Hebrew is Yahshua. We follow the pattern of the early church in Acts 2:44 and 4:32, truly believing everything that is written in the Old and New Covenants of the Bible, and sharing all things in common."

James explained that if the temporary housing units are built they wouldn't be used by immigrant laborers but by "friends and family" members of the group.

Each unit would be 1 to 2-bedroom units with a bathroom and no kitchen. At Gatherings Grove farms, everyone eats communally.

"We would probably start with maybe two units and go from there," James said. "These are not intended for rental and people would only be staying there for a few months at a time to help with picking mangoes and processing."

Questions were raised about adequate bathrooms, whether the buildings would meet building codes and would be hurricane resistant.

Roger Wood suggested that structures built under the "Special Exceptions" rules are substandard and therefore he's against building the units. James assured the group the structures would be permitted and built to code.

"You've kept Pine island the way it is and it's a wonderful place to live," James said. "We want to keep it the way it is and we have no intention of developing the property."

Mike Shevlin, owner and broker of Century 21 Sunbelt Realty, spoke up for the group.

"I've known some of the members of the group and their management of the property is incredible," Shevlin said. "I've also gotten to know them a little bit, and what they've done worldwide, and it's actually quite spectacular. They've become a part of the community and I'm sure the neighbors who have met them feel the same way."

The property is located on Quail Trail off of Barrancas Avenue in Bokeelia.



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