Oldsmar Cares officials sling the first shovelfuls of dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony for the nonprofits new 3,000-sq. ft. headquarters on Friday, June 17.
OLDSMAR – For months, the news surrounding Oldsmar Cares had been incredibly positive. In November, officials for the nonprofit organization announced plans to build a new, 3,000-square-foot headquarters adjacent to their current home on SR 590, making a strong commitment to the community by signing a 40-year lease.
The agreement was unanimously approved by the City Council in March, with no opposition or comment of any kind from the public. In February, the charity raised more than $130,000 at its annual Wine and Food Gala, a record amount in the event’s seven-year history, with some of the donations earmarked for the construction of the $300,000 building.
But just days after a ground-breaking ceremony for the new building on Friday, June 16, the organization received heated backlash about the project from several irate neighbors.
“I really have a problem with this,” Randy Hoople said during a discussion about the site plan and sidewalk variance at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 20. “This has just kind of blown up in our face. We kind of entertained this for however long they’ve been there, and I do want to say they have not been the best of neighbors, parking up and down Jefferson Street, especially around the holidays.”
Hoople, a resident of Jefferson Avenue, which runs along the eastern edge of the Oldsmar Cares property, went on to describe a “verbal altercation” he had with one Oldsmar Cares visitor, and he noted the constant problems with traffic, littering and water lines in the area.
“I just don’t think that the land supports the purpose they want to do,” he said.
One of Hoople’s neighbors went even further, stating the new facility has the potential to increase crime and decrease property values in the area if it is to be used as a homeless shelter, as rumored.
“I live within 500 feet of Oldsmar Cares. I donate every year to Oldsmar Cares. I love what Oldsmar Cares does, currently,” Jeana Vogel, who lives on nearby Dartmouth Avenue, said.
“However, there are major issues with what’s being proposed with their expansion as to what their services will provide.” Vogel said the expanded building is “rumored to include cots, include showers. We’re gonna have homeless right within our community, and when they’re kicked out at 9 a.m. they’re gonna be walking in our neighborhoods.”
“I have just spent a small fortune upgrading my property … and many residents are upgrading their residence as well, and to have these homeless roaming around, unsupervised, let alone the riff raff that comes with them most of the time, is very concerning.”
Following at least a half-dozen comments that took a similar, yet less panicked, tone, Oldsmar Cares vice-chair and marketing director Brenda Gaulin took the podium to debunk the rumors floating around about the 20-year-old food panty and clothing closet.
“This is NOT a homeless shelter,” she said. “There are no cots. There’s no plan (for that). So we’re not really sure where that all came from and how we got derailed into that direction.”
Gaulin admitted that a shower was being built in the new facility because it “made sense” having a larger bathroom, but she stressed it would only be used by Oldsmar Cares officials and volunteers. She also shot down the accusation of the nonprofit having an adverse effect on property values.
“We’ve been at this location for five or six years, and the property values have gone up,” she said.
Gaulin added that she was grateful to hear the residents’ concerns, and that the organization would do its best to be more respectful of the neighbors.
“It’s hard to hear that you’re not a good neighbor,” Gaulin said. “So I think that we need to do a better job of managing our property, just like any other neighbor.”
Following a lengthy discussion, the Council ultimately approved the site plan and a variance that will reduce the sidewalk in front of the building from 10 to 6 feet, but with the condition that a proposed access drive on Jefferson Avenue be eliminated from the project.
“This is zoned for office, it doesn’t necessarily need any access to a residential street,” Council member Gabby McGee, herself a downtown resident, said.
Four of her five fellow lawmakers concurred, with Mayor Doug Bevis casting the lone dissenting vote as the item passed, 4-1.
After the meeting, Bevis expanded on the reason behind his decision.
“I thought from a circulation and functionality standpoint, it worked better as shown,” Bevis said of the proposed drive. “It also would have provided residents on and near Jefferson another access point from 580.”
Longtime Oldsmar Cares board member David Wallace also commented on the situation.
“I was impressed by the number of people that came out to support this project and I was delighted we were able to address their questions,” Wallace said via email. “We are proud that Oldsmar Cares has been here for over 20 years to help people through the kinds of hard times that any one of us might face. I am excited the City approved our site plan to build a new larger facility to better serve the citizens of Oldsmar.”
Wallace said work on the new facility is expected to be completed later this year.