Homeless apartments deemed zoning violation
Florida Times Union, 2014-05-31
An apartment building for homeless people planned in Springfield would violate special zoning rules designed for that neighborhood, Jacksonville's planning director has concluded.
The decision could stop a project by Ability Housing of Northeast Florida that alarmed many Springfield residents, who say the historic district north of downtown is already overburdened with facilities for the poor or down-and-out.
"I see this as a huge deal for our neighborhood," said Jack Meeks , a property owner and businessman who asked Planning Director Calvin Burney to review the apartment plan on Cottage Avenue last month. "This is a definitive ruling by the city."
Halfway houses, group homes and rooming houses multiplied for decades in Springfield until around 2000 the city drafted rules, called a zoning overlay, that said new examples of those "special uses" wouldn't be allowed.
Burney wrote this week that Ability's plan for a 12-unit brick building it received state money to buy "is akin to that of a rooming house or group care home and similar activities" and that uses like that "served as the very basis of the implementation of the Springfield zoning overlay."
The 1929-vintage building is already used as an apartment building, but current tenants would be replaced with homeless people holding leases.
Ability's executive director, Shannon Nazworth , said Friday afternoon she hadn't seen Burney's letter yet and wasn't sure how he reached his conclusion.
The company, a nonprofit that has won praise for stabilizing and improving troubled apartment complexes in rough neighborhoods, has said it doesn't plan a facility like the zoning overlay forbids.
If the Cottage Avenue property counted as a "special use," she said, the same might be said of Mayfair Village apartments along Beach Boulevard , one of Ability's marquee properties.
Burney said the strongest evidence refuting that came from a grant application it filed with the Florida Housing Finance Corp. outlining plans to serve chronically homeless adults without children.
The Cottage Avenue residents are expected to be diagnosed as somehow disabled, Burney wrote, adding the grant application suggests most would have mental illnesses and histories of psychiatric hospitalization.
Nazworth said Ability doesn't own the building yet and would decide what action was appropriate after seeing Burney's letter.
Meeks said he's waiting to see whether Ability will simply move the project to another neighborhood or challenge Burney's reading of the law, maybe in front of the city Planning Commission . Meeks said he and his wife, JoAnn Tredennick , will make their argument backing Burney's decision if that happens.
He said concern about the homeless apartments has had a chilling effect on investment in the neighborhood, with some prospective investors and residents unsure about effects on the neighborhood and with some Realtors being instructed by lawyers to warn potential buyers of the plan.Steve Patterson: (904) 359-4263