LaBelle City Commissioners and residents of Hendry County voiced concerns about Pacific Tomato Growers’ proposed facility to house 466 migrant workers at the Local Planning Agency meeting on January 11, 2018.
Public Hearings were held regarding proposed Ordinance 2018-03 Pacific Tomato Growers, LTD. Small Scale Comprehensive Plan Map Amendment to change the property located at 615 West Cowboy Way from commercial and residential to city comprehensive plan outlying mixed use and proposed Ordinance 2018-04 Planned Unit Development Rezone to change the property located at 615 West Cowboy Way from R-3 Multi-family residential and B1 office professional zones to PUD, Planned Unit Development Zone.
Pacific Tomato Growers requested approval for the development of a housing complex for their employees. The proposed development has approximately 466 beds with four bedrooms to one unit and is made up of 116.5 dwellings.
“The land was chosen because it is the center of Immokalee and Parrish Florida where we operate,” Angel Garcia, Human Resources Director Manager at Pacific Tomato Growers.
“This piece of land is in an area that already has the infrastructure,” said Gary Muller, Principal Planner from Johnson Engineering, “It has sewer and water, people can walk to commercial facilities and recreational facilities. It is an ideal location.”
The employees currently travel two hours to the fields and the location for the complex in LaBelle would cut travel time for the employees down to one hour and twenty minutes
The gated complex will have bus parking and provide residents with laundry facilities, a convenience store, a daycare, sidewalks, and a 24-hour security staff. The complex would be surrounded by a six-foot wall.
“By having a six-foot wall don’t you think people will feel like they are in jail setting,” said Commissioner Zimmerly.
“The fence doesn’t have a jail setting,” said Garcia, “The wall is to protect them.”
“The wall is not to keep people in, but to keep other people out while these people are in the fields working all day and the complex is vacant,” said Muller.
Commissioner Julie Wilkins didn’t agree with the recommendations that the land was compatible with the neighborhood.
“You are introducing nearly 500 souls into a predominately single-family neighborhood and you’re not providing anything to keep them entertained,” said Commissioner Wilkins, “You are expecting us, the city, to provide recreation for them.”
“There are going to be 500 souls wandering the streets with no place to rest,” continued Commissioner Wilkins.
Several residents of Hendry County who live on Lilian and Pine Street near the proposed project site who do not approve of the complex being built spoke and requested for the commission to deny Pacific Tomato Growers’ request.
Rosa Marroquin stated concerns about the children and families living in the area as well as the traffic accidents and congestion.
“Children go to the ballpark every day,” said Marroquin, “it is already congested on our street and there are always accidents there. We are concerned about our kids that go to the bus stop”.
Amanda Cisnero agrees with Marroquin about the traffic concerns.
“There are a lot of accidents already,” said Cisnero, “there is a lot of congestion, and people getting ran over and I just think this will add to it.”
Angela Revis, Hendry County Resident for 41 years spoke of the pride she has for LaBelle.
“LaBelle is our roots and something we can be proud of,” said Revis, “This is not a development to make us proud and is not something I believe LaBelle citizens want in our community.”
Revis acknowledged there is a need for more low-income housing in LaBelle, but not migrant farmer housing.
“Low income people can’t qualify for housing because they aren’t migrants,” said Revis, “Please think about this and do what is in the best interest of the people in this community.”
Martha Hernandez, long time resident of Hendry County, told the commission to think about the children.
“What will this complex do to the children at Davis Pratt Park, LaBelle Elementary, and RCMA,” said Hernandez, “If you think of nothing else, please think of the children.”
“I think this is a great project in the wrong location,” said Commissioner Wilkins, “We need good housing for migrant workers, but not in this location.”
Julie Wilkins made a recommendation to the city commission that to proposed Ordinance 2018-03 Pacific Tomato Growers LTD. Small Scale Comprehensive Plan Map Amendment and proposed Ordinance 2018-04 Pacific Tomato Growers, LTD. Planned Unit Development Rezone be denided. The recommendation for denial for both ordinances passed 5-0.
The next Public Hearing on this matter will be during the City Commission Meeting on Thursday, February 8, 2018.