The long and winding battle between Ability Housing and residents of the Springfield neighborhood in Jacksonville continued Friday, with Ability Housing’s appeal of the Planning and Development Department’s refusal to grant an exception from a zoning overlaybeing.
In May, the city of Jacksonville contended, according to WJCT, “that the facility’s intended use is ‘akin’ to that of a rooming house or group care home and similar activities.” That constitutes “special use” housing, which is prohibited in the area under city zoning laws.
“We believe the interpretation of the use of 139 Cottage Avenue Apartments is incorrect,” Ability Housing Executive Director Shannon Nazworth wrote in a statement. “Cottage Avenue is currently a 12-unit apartment building and after our purchase will remain a 12-unit apartment building. As such it is not a special use as defined in the Springfield Overlay.”
Ahead of the appeal, Disability Rights Florida sent the mayor’s office a letter, establishing a line of argument rooted in federal law.
David Boyer, investigations director for the group, observed that there was “difficulty” getting a permit through the Jacksonville Zoning Board, and then observed that such difficulty contravenes the Fair Housing Act.
Boyer stated that “all citizens have equal rights” to “reside in neighborhoods,” and “creating laws or policies that prevent people [with] disabilities from living in some parts of the city is discrimination and a violation of the Fair Housing Act.”
Boyer’s letter was intended to “strongly encourage” the city to fulfill its obligations to “individuals with disabilities as equal citizens.”
A group of Springfield neighborhood activists mobilized against that action. Springfield is a neighborhood that has been in a gradual but real revival in recent years.
One such activist observed, on the Facebook page for the event, that “Ability Housing has already been defunded for the … state grant that purchasing this property was designed for. The City has denied their Certificate of Use because it violates the Springfield Overlay. Yet Ability Housing continues to fight!“
On Friday afternoon, FloridaPolitics.com spoke with Nazworth, who confirmed the activists’ claims.
Florida Housing Finance Commission had extended funding, Nazworth said, but because the Certificate of Use had been denied, the money had to be recaptured.
Regarding the persistent opposition to the project from community activists, Nazworth said that it “appears to be a NIMBY response,” because of “people not understanding” what the project was about.
“A lot of misinformation,” she said, had circulated, with some apparently thinking that their plans were for a homeless shelter or a “treatment facility.”
Regarding the Disability Rights Florida letter, Nazworth noted that they became aware of the issue, and wrote the mayor’s office in advocacy. As well, the group was represented in the room on Friday.
Next steps for Ability Housing will be determined at a Tuesday board meeting, where legal counsel will be present.
“We are very committed to pursuing legal action,” Nazworth said.
Story is developing; expect updates.