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Veteran Affordable Housing Project Approved Unanimously

Commissioners had previously stalled the item which will convey an 8.7-acre parcel and utilities facility owned by the county to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, Inc.


BRADENTON — After a nearly eight-week delay, Manatee County Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a long-discussed permanent housing project for homeless and at-risk of homelessness veterans. The approval will convey county-owned property valued at $6M to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, Inc., for the development of a veteran affordable housing complex.

The project was first presented in detail to commissioners during an April 25 BOCC meeting. The presenters for the project included representatives of both the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, Inc. and the U.S. VETS Program. The proposal was intended to bring permanent supportive housing to a county-owned parcel at 4410 66th Street West, Bradenton. The county would agree to support the project by transferring and donating land to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

Manatee County Commissioners had previously made a commitment to support future veteran housing projects by agreeing to allocate $15 million of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. These designated funds would be used to “purchase” the county-owned property from the Utilities Department—to offset the donation from the Utilities budget/assets—as a part of that previous commitment.

In April, the initiative was only in the planning stage, however following the presentation, commissioners voted unanimously to advance the conveyance of the county-owned site in support of the future location of the proposed project—though select commissioners had expressed some concerns.

In August when the item returned to commissioners for approval, the nonprofit—Tunnel to Towers Foundation—found that the unanimous support among commissioners had waned and lesser concerns previously expressed during the April meeting had ballooned to a majority of commissioners voting to “pause” advancement of the proposed project.

Commissioners Jason Bearden and Kevin Van Ostenbridge expressed several reservations about the requested approval which would have finalized the deal in August.

Bearden said he had significant concerns about T2T partnering with the U.S. VETS Program as it was his belief that the U.S. Vets would manage the site and Bearden had heard negative things about U.S. Vets from friends. Bearden also said he had “seen with his own eyes” examples of the poor quality of other sites managed by the organization.

Tunnel to Towers Foundation Vice President Gavin Naples responded to Bearden’s concerns assuring him that in the instance of the proposed Manatee County project, his organization would be controlling and managing the site—not U.S. VETS.

Van Ostenbridge expressed concerns about the proposed number of units for the project, concern over whether the site would cater to homeless veterans from outside of the area, and concern over a lack of community outreach and communication.

Based on his own concerns and those expressed by Bearden, Van Ostenbridge suggested the board might consider a “pause” on any votes for approval to allow for town halls to be held in the area of the proposed project.

Commissioner Amanda Ballard motioned for the board to continue the item for “up to six weeks.” Van Ostenbridge readily supported Ballard’s motion, however, because only four commissioners took to the dais to cast their votes, it was passed in an unusual 3-1 vote with Commissioners Ballard, Van Ostenbridge, and Ray Turner in support, Commissioner George Kruse in opposition, and Commissioners Bearden, Mike Rahn, and James Satcher absent.

Both District 4 Commissioner Rahn and Van Ostenbridge—who is the District 3 commissioner—held community town halls on the topic. Tunnel to Towers participated in the town halls which drew many residents for presentations and to have their questions answered. Both town halls found overwhelming public support for the proposed project and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, particularly among veterans and families of veterans.

Last month, prior to the Tunnel to Towers project returning to the board for another chance at approval, Bearden proposed a separate potential veteran housing project for county-owned land off of Buckeye Road.

At the time, Bearden seemed to suggest his proposed tiny-home veteran project might be a preferred option as opposed to the Tunnel to Towers project which hung in limbo. During the board’s discussion on Bearden’s proposal, commissioners seemed to come to the agreement that both projects could be valid options and the board’s decision need not be an either-or between the two.

On Tuesday, Tunnel to Towers Vice President Gavin Naples provided another detailed presentation to commissioners. Naples addressed the myriad of concerns that had been raised over the long course of negotiations and discussion of T2T’s proposed veteran village.

It has been a long road to here, obviously, Naples began his comments to commissioners. “The Tunnel to Towers Foundation stands to deliver this program, as we have for about a year now, but we are deeply saddened by the misinformation and the lies that have been surrounding this program.”

“My objective here today—whether or not the vote goes one way or the other, ” Naples continued, “is to correct the narrative and to make sure that everyone understands what this program is, what the Tunnel to Towers Foundation is, and our track record for helping veterans and first responders throughout the nation.”

Click the video below to replay his comments and presentation in their entirety.

Following Naples’ presentation, two commissioners continued to express reservations about a possible approval—Commissioner Bearden and Satcher.

During his questioning, Bearden appeared agitated as he explained to representatives of the project he was “sick and tired” of veterans “being used as pawns for people to make money off them.”

Similarly, Satcher’s tone and disposition toward the representatives of Tunnel to Towers seemed at times adversarial with him frequently cutting off Naples while he was attempting to answer the commissioner's questions, sometimes denying him the opportunity to respond at all.

During his opening presentation, Naples shared with the board that the Tunnel to Towers Foundation was formed after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Since its creation, said Naples, the organization had earned the “highest charity rating” and .94 cents of every dollar spent by the organization is spent on its recipients—veterans, gold star families, and first responders. 

To listen to Commissioner Bearden and Satcher’s comments and questions, and responses by representatives of Tunnel to Towers and U.S. VETS, click the video below.

Following board questions, the meeting recessed for an hour and a half lunch before reconvening to hear public comments on the matter.

Numerous members of the public attended the meeting in person to address commissioners, many of them citing a “letter” or “text message” they had received that they said misled them as to the nature of the proposed project.

Of the residents who mentioned having received misleading communications, almost all said that they had changed their minds and wished to speak in support of the project having heard the presentation by Tunnel to Towers before the lunch break. 

At one point, Commission Chair Van Ostenbridge clarified that the communications being referenced by public speakers were not official communications by the county government or commissioners.

Click the video clip below to watch public commenters on the item.

There was minimal commissioner deliberation following public comment as Commissioner Rahn moved to close the discussion with a “call to question” moving the item quickly to a vote. Notably, Commissioner George Kruse, who had long championed the proposed project, spoke up to say he was “on the board” waiting to speak.

Put to a vote, approval for the conveyance of land to Tunnel to Towers for the development of the veteran affordable housing project passed unanimously.

Following the meeting, TBT reached Commissioner Kruse by phone. Kruse told TBT that he was very happy with the board’s vote to approve and referred to the outcome as “a great day for Manatee County and for its Veteran community.”

“I have been working diligently with our staff and Tunnel to Towers since the summer of 2022,” Kruse told TBT by phone. “I want to thank the organization for sticking with us and working through concerns in a professional manner.”

“I also want to thank the public for its outpouring of support for our veterans and this project throughout this process," he added.

Kruse said the support of the public was particularly evident on Tuesday by the number of citizens who showed up to speak in favor of the project “in spite of disingenuous propaganda.”

“Today the BOCC honored a commitment we made long ago and I’m looking forward to both the groundbreaking and the ribbon cutting of this transformative future housing complex!” Kruse stated.


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  • Cwright

    My own little edit of that one sentence:

    Commission Chair Van Ostenbridge clarified that the (LYING PROPAGANDA) communications being referenced by public speakers were not “OFFICIAL”

    Wednesday, October 11, 2023 Report this

  • Dianna

    We have to thank Commissioner Kruse and the overwhelming public support for this project! The community wants to thank Tunnel to Towers and their supporting staff who continued to return despite being treated so disrespectfully by the ridiculous and embarrassing display of 6 commissioners during this entire process. Many citizens throughout this process have been overheard apologizing to Mr. Naples and his staff for the embarrassing behavior of our commissioners. The misinformation from Commissioners- from the calling the town hall a “homeless shelter” to the text messages where they were calling it a “homeless camp” on a project that is basically a gated community with wrap around services for veterans. Clearly during lunch they realized that they would lose the entire veterans vote in the community if they voted no on this project- they didn’t like it and you can watch it in the commissioners faces as they struggle with having to vote yes!

    Wednesday, October 11, 2023 Report this

  • WTF

    It passed 7-0 from the commission. But where did the "other" 9 million dollars of the 15 million earmark for our homeless veterans, the BOCC doesn't want to talk about those missing funds. If this was a real business they would be charge under the RICO act. https://legaldictionary.net/rico-law/


    Wednesday, October 11, 2023 Report this

  • Cat L

    Good to see this has passed, and no doubt that was largely influenced by the publics engagement. Kudos!

    Wednesday, October 11, 2023 Report this

  • sandy

    Bearden and Satcher were downright uncivil to the applicant. They need training on the ACE philosophy. This is not a project that is making a profit off of veterans as Bearden insinuated. The organizer is not a developer, but stated it will break even. I am glad the board approved and without the clause that they have approval of the services. Government does not need to stick their nose in that. Tunnels to Tower know what they are doing. If they still want to do the development that Bearden proposed, they can but they have a lot of hoops to jump through. One is whether taxpayers agree to be on the hook in perpetuity (DRI amendment, rezone). Other than the original investment of $6 million from the American Rescue Pal (out of $15 million originally proposed to address homeless veterans) the county has no other financial obligation. As Kruse stated in one meeting the remainder has been allocated to other projects, not veteran related.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2023 Report this

  • Debann


    Wednesday, October 11, 2023 Report this