Housing project for farmworkers draws protests

RICHARD DYMOND
Herald Staff Writer
Posted on Thu, Apr. 29, 2004

EAST MANATEE - Manatee County farmer John Falkner is irked that some neighbors don't like his new farmworker housing project at Classie Farms, a project that appears to comply with county farmworker housing regulations.

"It's irritating that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing and someone is complaining," said Hugh McGuire, Falkner's attorney.

Residents who saw 10 manufactured homes lined up in a field off Verna Bethany Road this week have been calling Manatee County planning and code enforcement asking if Falkner has legal grounds to put the farmworker complex there, county officials said.

"We have been getting calls for about a week," said planner John Prettyman. "At this time, we don't know anything to prohibit this farmworker housing."

Ginger Riegel, who has lived in the Myakka City area for 24 years, lives nearby and is opposed to the new housing.

"Do you know what it will do to property values, to have a migrant camp out here?" Riegel said. "We have nice homes out here. These mobile homes are not far from Panther Ridge and Pomello Ranches."

Falkner plans to build sidewalks, picket fences and a playground for 10 permanent tractor drivers who will live in the new manufactured homes on a 600-acre section of Falkner's property, on the west side of Verna Bethany Road, McGuire said.

"Mr. Falkner is doing the right thing," McGuire said. "These people need to have a place to live."

Falkner requested help from affordable housing advocate and county commissioner Pat Glass to cut through some red tape on the project.

Glass said she talked to county staff on behalf of Falkner.

"The last time I spoke to everyone it appeared that all the details were being taken care of and they could get an administrative permit," Glass said. "They had to submit a blueprint of what they were doing."

Glass said Falkner's project could be a role model when it is finished.

"It will be very, very nicely done," Glass said. "It isn't in close proximity to any subdivision. But any affordable housing will always present some neighborhood problems."

The farmworker housing will be located on the west side of Verna Bethany, across the road from the 7,000-acre Classie Farm on the east side of Verna Bethany, which grows cucumbers and tomatoes.

The farmworker homes are each 66 feet long, 14 feet wide and include three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a utility room, a dining room and a kitchen, McGuire said.

"They are larger than a single-wide mobile home," McGuire said.

Classie Farms has applied for a temporary use permit to install the manufactured homes for farmworker housing, but hasn't applied for the final permits to set the units, said Art Ricker, the county's construction review coordinator.

"They will have to go through the planning process and get approval before any permits can be issued to set up permanently," Ricker said. "I don't think they have applied to the planning department yet."

The Manatee County Land Development Code states that farmworker housing must in located on land actively being used for farming, on at least 250 acres, with no more than 15 units and should be 500 feet from property lines - all things that Falkner is adhering to, McGuire said.

With regard to manufactured homes, they should not be in coastal high hazard areas and should be skirted so no support structures are visible.