Harvey Vengroff, a wealthy Sarasota County businessman, wants to transform a Manatee County motel into affordable housing. The housing could be ready as soon as this fall. BY CLAIRE ARONSON caronson@bradenton.com

MANATEE -- Every week, Harvey Vengroff hears from people asking when the Knights Inn will become affordable housing.

With a shortage of affordable housing in Manatee County and a waiting list of more than 300 families in Manatee and Sarasota counties seeking such housing, Vengroff hopes to provide some relief to the market by this fall.

Vengroff, a wealthy Sarasota County businessman who has transformed several motels into affordable housing, wants to redevelop the Knights Inn, 2303 First St., Bradenton, into furnished apartments with water, electricity and cable for $625 a month. Vengroff will be closing on the motel, which is near the intersection of U.S. 301 and U.S. 41, on July 7 for $4.4 million. Renovations at the 240-room property will cost about $1.5 million.

"We are changing those rooms into studio apartments," Vengroff said Thursday. "Some will be for senior citizens. Some will be for families that need a roof over their heads."

In order to make way for the transformation into housing, the zoning must be changed to retail/office/residential from the light industrial zoning. The planning commission Thursday unanimously supported the county-initiated change to the Future Land Use Map, which will go to the county commission for approval June 2.

"The existing future land use doesn't allow residential units," said Rossina Leider, a county planner. "The idea is, this area is going to be revitalized and mixed use allows an improvement in the area."

The zoning change will also allow Vengroff to build two-bedroom apartments on the five extra acres adjacent to the Knights Inn.

"We try to put a future for them and show them how they can move on to something better," Vengroff said. "They may move into a two-bedroom apartment and then a home. There is a progression so that people can get back on their feet."

The first 60 apartments will be done by the end of August, Vengroff said.

In Manatee County, 1,800 children in public school don't have beds, Vengroff said.

"It is really important," he said. "We would like to get it done as soon as possible and get people moved in. We have other apartments in the area but they are all full. We just need affordable housing, and Manatee County has been very cooperative in helping us create it."

This will expand the availability of rental units, said Leslie Loveless, executive director of the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness.

"His units are going to provide critical housing to help families with children and individuals and veterans become housed," she said.

Vengroff ran into a roadblock last week in Sarasota in developing nearly 400 affordable apartments, but Vengroff said he expects that proposal to pass at the next commission meeting.

"In Sarasota, it took us 10 years to get a zoning change. In Manatee County, it took less than six months," Vengroff said. "I think the local government is working to solve the problem."

In December, the Manatee County Commission unanimously supported the process for the county-initiated amendment. At the time, Commissioner Betsy Benac called that step "a real show of support for it."

The development of more affordable housing is important in both counties, Vengroff said.

"We just need affordable housing, and Manatee County has been very cooperative in helping us create it," he said.

James Ludera, who owns the USA Transmission near the Knights Inn, said while he is not for or against any changes, it has always been a commercial area.

"If it became highly residential, would it force us to make other changes around there?" he asked.

Turning Points, a Bradenton nonprofit whose mission is to serve the needy of Manatee County, looks forward to working with Vengroff if the zoning change gets approved, said Adell Erozer, Turning Points executive director.

"It would be great for the community for affordable housing," she said.

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino, who has been working with Vengroff to get affordable housing in Manatee County, said this is a huge project for the county.

"I want to first thank Harvey and his team for believing in Manatee County and working with us," DiSabatino said Thursday. "This is huge. Our first step for affordable, workforce housing and kudos to everyone involved."

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.

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