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Ability Housing Appealing Planning Department's Ruling On Apartments

Ability Housing of Northeast Florida

Ability Housing of Northeast Florida is appealing the Jacksonville planning department's decision stifling its plans to purchase a set of Springfield apartments.The group plans to convert a Cottage Avenue apartment complex into housing for the chronically homeless, but last month, Jacksonville Planning and Development Department Director Calvin Burney ruled 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.

The nonprofit is pushing back against  the Burney's interpretation of the facility. Wednesday, the agency filed an appeal with the city.

“We believe the interpretation of the use of 139 Cottage Ave. Apartments is incorrect,” said Ability Housing Executive Director Shannon Nazworth in a written 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.”

Springfield currently has about 50 special use facilities, from halfway houses to shelters. Adding another special needs facilities to the area goes against current land use rules.

Over the last few months, Ability's plans, made possible through a $1.5 million grant, have received resistance from a large number of local residents.

In April, Downtown Investment Authority Board member and Springfield resident Jack Meeks asked Burney to review of the Ability Housing plan and determine if it was in violation of land use rules.

Claude Moulton, Meeks’ colleague and former president of Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council said he was pleased with the city’s decision and is confident it will stick.

“Ability has to meet a very high standard in order to overturn the interpretation by the Planning Department. We’re confident that whatever they do, we will prevail in this,” he said.

Ability Housing presented plans earlier this year to  purchase the 12-unit apartment complex through a grant and renovate it into homes for the chronically homeless, with a focus on the veteran community.

The agency said it will provide wraparound services  with help from agencies including the U.S. Department of Affairs and other non-profit organizations.

Moulton said if Ability's is successful in it's appeal, Meeks will likely take the issue to court.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.