Group continues fight for homeless housing in Springfield

Neighbors balk, city says project isn't within zoning rules

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A fight over bringing in apartments for homeless veterans continues in Springfield.

Neighbors don't want it, the city said the area's not zoned for it, but Ability Housing of Northeast Florida is still fighting, saying the 12-unit complex meets city regulations if it houses homeless veterans.

Springfield has stringent zoning rules, and neighbors and current residents of a small apartment complex are watching to see what happens.

The property in question is at 139 Cottage Avenue. A number of people who live there are confused by a push to convert the complex into housing for homeless veterans and what it means for them.

"With me just moving in here, I should have been aware of it," said Matthew Shorts. "But with me just finding out about (it). I think it's kind of awkward."

Another resident expressed concerned about officials finding current residents other places to live, if the plan were to be approved.

"You can't just do that because some people stay here right now, and this is the only house they got right now," Malcolm Hilliard said. "For them to just move us out would be inconvenient."

The city of Jacksonville sent a letter late last month, saying converting this to housing for the homeless would be a violation of something called the Springfield Zoning Overlay. The letter said, "'Homeless supportive housing' is not a defined use in the zoning code."

DOCUMENT: City's letter to Ability Housing

But now Ability Housing of Northeast Florida has appealed the city's decision.

In a statement to Channel 4, the group said, "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."

City councilman Johnny Gaffney, who represents Springfield, said he has concerns about the proposed project.

"There would be no oversight of these apartments," Gaffney said. "We're approximately two small blocks from an elementary school, and I believe that the community would have felt a lot more comfortable if there were some type of staff on site."

Gaffney said the issue will now go back to the city's planning commission, which will consider the appeal.

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