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Tribalwide housing plan unveiled

More than 1,500 acres of land in Brighton, Big Cypress, Hollywood, Immokalee and Lakeland will sprout new housing units in the not too distant future, thanks to the Tribalwide housing plan. The plan is in the design and engineering phase and should be complete by September 2018, the end of this fiscal year. Until then, only the big picture has been revealed.

Homes, townhouses and apartments will be built to accommodate the future needs of the Tribe. The development plan also calls for a new clinic in Hollywood, commercial space, a senior center and assisted living facility in Big Cypress and an entirely new community in Lakeland, which is near Tampa.

“It’s a good thing to see the Tribe expanding not just in its businesses, but to meet the demands of Tribal members in regard to housing,” said Housing Director Derrick Smith. “These projects are the infrastructure for the future of the community.”

Virtually every reservation has a waiting list for homes, so this project will be a relief for those 300 or so families on the lists.

For Big Cypress, the Tribe plans to designate more than 800 acres for the grove, as well as multiple residential and commercial areas, including homesites, recreational areas and public buildings. (Courtesy photo)

“We’re taking an aggressive approach to this, per council instructions, to get these projects out of the ground as soon as possible,” Smith said.

A key component of the plan is community involvement and feedback.

“The original concept was to try to keep the identity of the reservations intact, each is unique,” Smith said. “We certainly wouldn’t put a cookie-cutter development in the middle of the community, so we are taking initial design and overall ideas to the communities for their feedback.”

Some community members mentioned that they didn’t want to have to wait for a home, but Smith said getting all the permits in place on a large scale at one time is a more efficient and effective use of Tribal resources.

“This will be quicker for those who want to be home owners,” Smith said. “We will have sites ready with roads and utilities so they can do their design and get into their dream homes faster.”

Home owners will be able to choose an architect and builder from a list of approved vendors. If a home owner has someone else in mind, their choice must apply and become a Tribal vendor.

In Brighton, nearly 300 acres of the Flowing Well Grove will contain single family and townhomes, both owned and rental properties. The amount of units will be determined by roads and

Brighton’s conceptual plan features 93 acres for housing, which includes member-owned home sites, as well as 289 total acres for a flowing well grove area. (Courtesy photo)

infrastructure such as utilities and water.

There could be a few hundred properties in Brighton, but the final number won’t be determined until the design and engineering plan is complete. The same stipulation applies to Big Cypress, Hollywood and Lakeland.

An 890-acre parcel in Big Cypress called The Grove is the largest and most ambitious project. It could encompass residential, commercial, health and education facilities within its borders. Setting aside that much acreage will allow future generations the space they will need to solve issues they may face.

“The community is growing and we will need some supporting businesses in the future,” Smith said. “We identified an area large enough that if we want to add a senior assisted living facility or a vocational school, we would have the area to expand.”

The community supports the idea of the development but some of Smith’s concerns are maintaining the identity of the reservation and being able to predict the future size of the community based on current population study data. Big Cypress’s wide open spaces are an important component in the plan.

“We certainly want our future generations to be able to enjoy the natural resources that we do,” Smith said.

Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger is on board and supportive of the project. He envisions all kinds of services eventually filling the commercial space including possibly banking, mail services, a beauty salon and more. He is convinced BC will retain its distinctiveness.

“BC is the strongest res in culture, language and traditions,” Councilman Tiger said. “We will still be who we are even though we will have more buildings. Whatever buildings we inhabit, culture will never leave us.”

Multi-family buildings are part of Hollywood’s solution to housing needs. More than 70 rental townhouses and apartments will be built in four phases on the reservation. Phase one, the townhouses on Priscilla Sayen Way, is complete. Phase two will be a single four-story or more apartment building near those townhouses. Phase three will be a similar, but larger, building on the site of the existing clinic. Phase four will be an update and replacement of the older townhouses and apartments on the south side of the reservation.

The new plan for Hollywood includes more than 70 units, some multi-story, and three parking spaces per unit. Phase one of the construction is already complete. (Courtesy photo)

“Because of lack of land, we are looking to go vertical,” Smith said. “We want to keep Seminole Estates for other developments, including a new clinic.”

Immokalee added seven rental homes to its housing stock in March and plans are in the works for four more. The new homes should be completed by the end of the fiscal year.

“Immokalee is a good example of what we are trying to accomplish,” Smith said. “They are all shovel ready with infrastructure in place. This is a good snapshot of where we are trying to get on the larger reservations.”

Lakeland’s 700-plus acres were put into trust last year and plans are being developed for a new community of approximately 150 homes. The land is totally undeveloped so the housing department is working with the city’s public works department to get infrastructure on the site.

“Communication with the tribal members who will be moving there is extremely important,” Smith said. “Elders and families use the property now and we want to make sure we capture their vision. I see it really reflecting the Tampa community and I look forward to working with the community on that.”

Smith has spoken to other tribes around the country at housing conferences and said no other tribe has tackled a development as vast as this one.

“No one recalls this amount of land being developed by a tribe at one time,” Smith said. “Everyone is excited about it. The resources we have differ from other tribes, but our land resources are smaller which is why we have to be more efficient as we move forward with projects like this.”

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at

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