Wilton Manors garnered national headlines last year when commissioners unanimously approved construction of an LGBT-friendly affordable housing project for seniors at the Pride Center at Equality Park.
But the $15 million project at 2040 N. Dixie Highway came with concerns about inadequate parking, stormwater overflow, code violations and a noisy, illegal gym.
Nearly a year later, the gym is still noisy and the Pride Center owes the city approximately $14,000 in unpaid legal fees and costs. Neighbors hoped the non-profit community center would tighten up its act but according to them it hasn’t.
That’s why Commissioners Gary Resnick and Paul Rolli refused to vote for a plat revision on May 28 that would pave the way for the gym to legally obtain a business tax receipt. Mayor Justin Flippen, Vice Mayor Tom Green and Commissioner Julie Carson voted in favor of the measure.
Now officials at the Pride Center have targeted Resnick and Rolli because they were critical of the Pride Center’s landlord practices.
Christopher Caputo, board chair for the Pride Center, accused Rolli and Resnick of voting against affordable housing.
“I’m here to express my appreciation for the three elected officials who were willing to vote for a community of inclusiveness, who voted in support for affordable senior housing,” Caputo said during public comments at the June 11 City Commission meeting. “I recognize Justin Flippen, Julie Carson and Tom Green, who didn’t just vote for affordable housing, because it’s on Nan Rich’s agenda, as one of her most critical items for our future.”
Caputo said the three “yes” votes were guided by their “strong moral compass” and that they understood a community designed “solely for rich white gay men is a community without a future.”
Roger Roa, the Pride Center’s director of development, piled on in a Facebook post, writing, “please help me by letting everyone know that these two commissioners just got elected and would rather squash the project than doing what they each stated they would do during the campaign … to further improve and better our city. SHAME ON YOU.” The post has since been removed.
Resnick and Rolli said Caputo and Roa’s comments were inaccurate and misguided.
“[Caputo] got everything wrong. We approved the apartment project. It’s been approved several times so he is wrong about that, and we have all expressed our support for senior low income housing,” said an irritated Resnick. “The issue we had is the Pride Center violating the law, and that they have a business that is illegally operating on their property. We hold all property owners to the code, and they are violating the code. I think they think they are above the law.”
Rolli was equally peeved.
“The issue discussed at the City Commission meeting was about property owner responsibility and compliance with city codes, not about housing,” Rolli said. “The city supports the affordable housing as we voted to approve the plat amendment for the Pride Center — the city also voted to pay up to $200,000 in housing construction costs and to approve flexibility units and also issued a building permit for construction.”
Matt Dreger, a neighbor and president of the Riverside Homeowners Association, said he has fought with the Pride Center over illegal signs, illegal lighting, stormwater issues and code violations and isn’t hopeful things will easily improve.
“They abuse the city, they abuse their neighbors and now they are abusing the elected officials,” Dreger said. “God only knows what they are going to do next.”