Developer hopes to bring affordable housing to Murray Hill

By Zachery Lashway - Reporter/anchor, Corley Peel - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Jacksonville developer hopes to bring affordable housing to a section of Murray Hill.

The Murray Hill Preservation Association is holding a meeting Thursday night to hear from the community on the proposal. The development would be built at the former Bank of America property on Edgewood Avenue.

Vestcor hopes to develop the land into a four-story apartment building with 117 units and 11,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level. The project would cover 90% of the block and it would be across the street from homes that are for sale on Talbot Avenue.

Keith Kirker is selling a remodeled two-bedroom home in the area.

"We put a lot of extra effort in to keep the quality up and the charm of the house.  Worked on it constantly for five or six months, pretty much daily," Kirker said.

With the proposed plans to put the apartment complex across the street from his home, he said he's concerned. 

"We have had at least three showings recently where the potential customers love the house, but they were deathly afraid with what is going on across the street with the development of the housing project," Kirker said.

Len Burroughs is a board member of the Murray Hill Preservation Association.  He has lived in Murray Hill for 43 years.  

"There are pros and cons, people who like the idea and people who don't," Burroughs said. "What I would like to see is something that benefits the neighborhood and makes and fits in the neighborhood."

Councilwoman Randy Defoor released this statement: "I am committed to the residents of Murray Hill and recognize the importance of right sized development in our historic and non-historic neighborhoods. Getting it right is essential."

A request for comment from Vestcor and the attorney representing the firm was not immediately returned Thursday evening.

Community shares its thoughts

During a meeting at the Murray Hill Theatre on Thursday night, members of the community shared their thoughts on the development. Many remained skeptical after hearing from the developer.

WATCH: Community shares its thoughts on proposed development

The developer, Vestcor, said the property is considered "workforce housing." That means tenants need to have a job and meet a wage threshold that's two-and-a-half times the rent. The cost of rent would range from $772 to $993 a month.

Williams Cumbie lives in the area. He feels the lower rent rates will decrease property values.

"It might start to effect not only the crime rates, but the market values around here," Cumbie said. "If you're going to rent these units out for 3 to $400 under market value, what's that going to do?"

There were also some concerns about parking. Vestcor said there are 196 spaces for the parking lot and 34 spaces along Edgewood Avenue. The project would cover 90% of the block.

"That's for one family to have one car and no guests that never come over," Cumbie said. "It's going to jam up the streets. It's going to jam up the traffic."

“Murray Hill is growing and changing quickly," said Shane Williams, a property owner. "There’s a lot of opportunity here. There’s a lot of services that we need that we don’t have in the neighborhood, so, some of that retail space below could really be a good thing.”

A meeting on the zoning exception for the project is scheduled for Aug. 22 at City Hall.

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