LAKELAND, Fla. – Merely a pipe dream for the past 18 years, The Villages at Noah’s Landing is nearing completion.

Quaint, colorful and secluded on 56 acres of semi-wooded prime real estate on Lake Crago in north Lakeland, the residential community for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities is unique for Polk County and a rarity throughout the nation.

The $17.5 million project is on schedule, having broken ground last February, and should see its first residents by late April or early May.

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As a founder and executive director of Noah’s Ark of Central Florida, parent to Noah’s Landing, Jack Kosik could just pinch himself.

“What we’re doing is groundbreaking,” he said. “It’s really opening the doors to serve a need.”

Financed primarily with low-income housing tax credits, the project is expected to alleviate a waiting list for safe, affordable housing for adults with disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome, Williams syndrome and cerebral palsy.

Unlike state licensed group homes, Noah’s Landing will operate independently, with oversight provided by staff, volunteers and parents, along with monitoring from state social workers.

Future residents include Michael Smith, 29, who has Williams syndrome, a genetic condition characterized by cardiovascular disease, developmental delays and learning disabilities.

Smith, who works part-time at a Sam’s Club, soon will leave the home he shares with his mother, Lori Smith-Addleman.

He’s excited.

His mother is nervous.

“I’m sending someone out there that doesn’t make decisions for himself,” she said. “We’re going to take advantage of the opportunity and see if this works. This is going to be so awesome for him, and I can see him bringing something great to Noah’s Landing as well.”

Despite her concerns, Smith-Addleman said her son is a good fit for the special community, which will be gated and seeded with security cameras. Since Michael doesn’t drive, he’ll be able to catch a city bus or access private transportation for work and recreation.

Noah’s Landing will offer counseling, training and supportive services. Amenities include a pool, clubhouse, arts, crafts and meal plans. Residents will have the option of learning trades by working in a commercial kitchen or community garden. They can live alone or with roommates.

The first phase of construction incorporates 17 buildings, with room for 128 residents with disabilities and four resident advisers. Future phases, incorporating additional housing and an assisted living facility, will materialize as funds become available.

Kosik said he has commitments from people as far away as Puerto Rico and Kansas who intend to place loved ones at Noah’s Landing. In many cases, parents and caretakers plan to move to Lakeland as well.

Roughly half of the units are spoken for, he said, and the rest should move swiftly. Rent averages $400 a month, utilities included, which should fit the budget of most people with developmental disabilities, whose subsidized monthly incomes fall between $733 and $1,400. Most also qualify for $120 in monthly food stamps.

Noah’s Landing charges an optional “lifestyle enrichment fee” of $230 a month, which covers a spectrum of services and amenities. In most cases, parents or other relatives will cover the added cost, Kosik said.

Although more and more communities of this type are being developed nationwide, many are priced much higher, well beyond the means of the average family, said Kosik, whose own daughter with intellectual disabilities, Brittany, will reside on site.

Smith-Addleman said her son’s part-time income averages $850 a month, making him ineligible for Supplemental Security Income, a government disability benefit. She anticipates having to partially subsidize Michael’s expenses at Noah’s Landing. But it will be worth it, she said, for the peace of mind of not having to worry about his future well-being.

“It’s not a group home, he’s free to come and go as he pleases. He’ll be independent. If something were to happen to me tomorrow, what would happen to him?”

© 2016 The Ledger
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