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Jacksonville, FL (May 8, 2017) As promised, Council Member Danny Becton delivered to the Land Use and Zoning Committee, a substitute bill 2017-36 that he introduced, which was debated and passed out of committee and is now ready for full Council approval for May 23rd prior to the official extended deadline of May 30th.

Acting in his role as Chair of the Land Use and Zoning Committee, District 11 Council Member Danny Becton held three lengthy meetings adding up to over 9 hours of public review to dissect and refine legislation that was aimed at eliminating housing discrimination against the disabled. The substituted bill applied not only to the Springfield Overlay, which is involved in active litigation on this issue, but has implications affecting every neighborhood in the city. “A lot of thoughtful and hard work, along with careful consideration went into this substitute so that changes to our Zoning Code would be clear, accurate and accomplish the needs of our City and all its citizens, with an eye of reducing unintended consequences”, CM Becton reflected.

Ability Housing, Disability Rights Florida, and the Department of Justice has brought suit against the city over an issue that dates back to Mayor Brown’s administration whereby Ability Housing was denied an administrative zoning modification in its application to renovate an apartment building on Cottage Avenue near Main Street in the Springfield Historic District into 12 units of permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless and the disabled. Then Director of Planning in ruling against Ability Housing’s application, based his decision on the interpretation that their application violated a prohibition of “Special Use” within the Springfield Overlay area due to the project’s proposed level of social services to be provided to residents by the developer, and which made the project more similar to an assisted living facility or social service organization. New “Special Uses” are prohibited in the historic district by the overlay regulations as currently written. As a result, all three parties sued the City alleging it violated the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by its prevention of the development of permanent supportive housing for persons with disabilities and by subsequent retaliation against Ability Housing after it filed complaints under the FHA and ADA. Ability Housing was declared ineligible to compete for Jacksonville Journey grant funding because of the pending lawsuit against the City. The three lawsuits were consolidated and the City and U.S. Department of Justice reached a proposed settlement agreement to end the DOJ federal lawsuit with pending Bills 2017-36, 2017-68 and 2017-69.

The Springfield Overlay is a one-square mile portion of Springfield in its historic district with strict rules about the type of businesses and dwellings that can be expanded due to previously identified large disproportionately number of rooming houses (13), group care homes, community residential homes of seven or more residents and automotive uses (20), includinag automotive sales and repairs and related automotive uses that populated its neighborhoods. The members of SPAR (Springfield Preservation and Revitalization) and residents of Springfield contended it already had too many of these special use facilities within the overlay boundaries and therefore, the Springfield Overlay amended in 2000 to prohibit their expansion within the area.

The original legislation 2017-36, as first drafted by the plaintiffs which modified the zoning code was 45 pages that made broad changes with a scalpel to Chapter 656 of the Zoning Code, whereby the end result was confusing and unclear as to how it would apply across our city. “This concerned residents and me as well”, CM Becton explained, “that our zoning code was changed in a process that was not transparent, excluded public input, and lacked legislative representation in addition to what I read of the bill afterwards was just a confusing mess”.

As a result of these concerns, LUZ Chairman, CM Becton, decided, a complete review, line by line in a public forum was needed to assess the original legislation and allow everyone to come together to make sure that the best bill possible was delivered to the city with the objectives and intent 1) to apply our Zoning Code to Protect Civil Rights, 2) to create a procedure for disabled persons to request reasonable accommodations from provisions of the Zoning Code and 3) to modify the Springfield Overlay Zoning District to comply with these standards and meet the needs of their community.

Through the hard work and help of many dedicated city and public individuals, the original bill has been rewritten and it will be by this Substitute Bill, introduced by CM Becton that the LUZ Committee has passed and will deliver to Council, a bill that is clear and understandable in its work that accomplished many improvements while “fundamentally remaining the same bill”.

Those improvements included:

  • Updating of many definitions.
  • Removal of unnecessary language.
  • Remove of unnecessary code references.
  • Providing for a much improved process for requesting a reasonable accommodation.
  • Changes that resulted in a much simpler and easier to read and understand zoning code.

CM Becton final comments, “As I mentioned before, many Thank you go out to so many folks who helped in crafting this legislation as it was a team effort by the COJ Office of General Counsel attorney’s Jason Teal and Susan Grandin, as well as the outside attorneys who were involved, Mr. Tom Ingram and Mr. Paul Harden along with Ability Housing Director Ms. Shannon Nazworth, SPAR Director Ms. Christina Parrish, plus Ms. Alberta Hipps former City Councilwomen who was also involved with the original legislation back in 2000”. “Also, everyone who gave input and attended our meetings from the public as caring and great citizens of Jacksonville, (too many to name), I really appreciate you having taken time out of your days and business hours in helping make our city better by your expertise.”

“Again, thank you everyone!”