Settlement triggers confusion

  • By Max Marbut
  • | 12:00 p.m. March 23, 2017
  • | 5 Free Articles Remaining!
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Three months after the city agreed to a proposed settlement of a federal lawsuit over housing for disabled, three city committees are waiting to resolve one last piece of a legal puzzle:

Whether the settlement would require the city to amend the zoning code only in Springfield or throughout Duval County.

Three ordinances to enact the settlement terms were introduced to City Council in January and then sent to the Neighborhood, Community Investments & Services, Land Use & Zoning and Finance committees.

But the ordinances triggered questions. “When I was reviewing the legislation and zoning code, I had as many questions as everyone else. I think everyone is confused,” said LUZ Chair Danny Becton.

The confusion stems from a lawsuit involving a proposed housing redevelopment in Springfield.

In 2014, Ability Housing began the permitting process to convert a vacant, 12-unit apartment building on Cottage Avenue in the historic district into housing that would be occupied by disabled residents.

The Planning Commission ruled the project was a “special use” that was prohibited by the Springfield Zoning Overlay that went into effect in 2000.

Ability Housing sued the city in November 2015, alleging the ruling violated the Federal Fair Housing Act and the American with Disabilities Act by not allowing a project intended to benefit disabled people.

Disability Rights Florida and the U.S. Justice Department joined the suit against the city.

Fourteen months later, the litigants agreed to settle. The settlement requires the city to:

• Appropriate $425,000 to be paid to the nonprofits to cover a portion of their legal fees and costs;

• Appropriate $25,000 to pay a federal civil penalty;

• And amend the Springfield Zoning Overlay to ensure it conforms to federal housing law;

Also included in the settlement proposal is a provision for the city to award a $1.5 million grant for development of permanent supportive housing for disabled people within 12 months following dismissal of the lawsuit.

The settlement also resulted in three new ordinances introduced to City Council in January and then sent to three committees.

The neighborhood committee approved Monday the two ordinances that would appropriate the funds and discharged them for action by the council. But on Tuesday, LUZ deferred action on the zoning amendment ordinance. On Wednesday, the Finance Committee deferred action on the ordinances related to the payment and penalty.

Finance Committee Chair Anna Lopez-Brosche said she prefers for her committee to postpone action on the legislation until after LUZ approves the zoning changes that would result from the ordinance and there’s more clarity about whether an ordinance based on Springfield zoning might affect other neighborhoods.

“Council members want to make sure we understand the implications,” she said.

Deputy General Counsel Jason Teal said the intent is to amend only the special zoning restrictions for the neighborhood north of Downtown.

The amendments included in the bill would replace the current ban on multifamily supportive housing and make that use permissible by exception, but only through an approval process including administrative review and a public hearing.

“It would make Springfield consistent with every other neighborhood in Jacksonville,” said Teal.

Becton has scheduled a public meeting and workshop on the zoning changes at 2 p.m. April 6 in the Lynwood Roberts Room at City Hall.

“Let’s get everybody in a room and let’s learn together,” Becton said. “We need to remove the speculation and misunderstanding. I’d like to think we’re one good meeting away from getting this done.”

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