Springfield residents gather for answers on Ability Housing settlement


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Springfield community gathered Tuesday night to discuss a possible settlement between the city of Jacksonville and the Justice Department on a proposed housing complex for homeless veterans.

The meeting at the Springfield Improvement Association and Archives attracted 100 community members.

Michael Trautmann led the meeting, along with other speakers including Jack Meeks, Councilman Reggie Gaffney and Claude Moulton.

The focus of the litigation concerned the Historic Zoning Overlay, which protects Springfield and its historic community from certain zoning uses deemed nonconforming in the neighborhood.

The nonprofit Ability Housing tried to convert a property on Cottage Avenue into housing for homeless veterans. The city fought back on behalf of neighbors and the feds opened a discrimination investigation.

It’s definitely been a hard issue for people to agree on and the fight over the property has been going on for a couple of years. One councilman for that district said he hopes both sides can find common ground.

A proposed settlement was introduced to the City Council back in 2014 when some Springfield neighbors were concerned about what this housing property would do to the neighborhood.

The battle began over a property on Cottage Avenue as concerns raised by Springfield neighbors led to several community meetings.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney represents the neighborhood and has watched this unfold since the beginning.

Gaffney addressed the crowd and agreed to stand with the community to oppose the repeal of the historic overlay for Springfield.

“As a council person we need to look at what’s best for the city of Jacksonville,” Gaffney said.

Ability Housing's proposed settlement will "gut" the Springfield Historic Zoning protection and provide for monetary compensation from the city exceeding $1.5 million.

People in the area were concerned about attracting bad tenants to the area, so the city used a special zoning rule to prevent Ability Housing from turning the property into those apartments.

The Justice Department sued, saying that zoning rule discriminated against people with disabilities.

Last week, concerns were raised once again by residents over a possible settlement that called for many things, including a change to zoning rules.

“It may do away with what we call the overlay. Back in 2000 they did a study and we have an overlay in the Springfield area where you can’t put multihouses in that area. If this moves forward, we are afraid it’s going to do away with the overlay,” Gaffney said.

The zoning overlay has been in place for 16 years and many local residents and developers contend the special overlay.

Adam Halstead, president of the Springfield Improvement Association and Archives, said the city's agreement in the matter will strip Springfield of most of its historic zoning protections and have a potential impact on Riverside, San Marco and Avondale.

Halstead said there are several builders, developers, and potential new residents planning extensive projects in Springfield that are counting on the city to defend the community.

"That’s my community and I understand their concerns, but as I gather information, I’m going to do my best to explain it to them. I’m just hoping it’s a win-win when we come out,” Gaffney said.

During the meeting, it was suggested the city retain outside, special legal counsel with expertise in protecting communities, like Historic Springfield, in these matters.

The council must approve the settlement before it can be enacted. 

Additional updates will be posted on Springfield Improvement Association and Archives website when they become available.

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