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Jacksonville, FL (May 23, 2017) The Jacksonville City Council passed Bills 2017-36 along with 2017-68 and 2017-69, resolving many months and several years of negotiations of a lawsuit filed by Ability Housing, Disability Rights Florida, and the Department of Justice vs. the City of Jacksonville over a 2014 decision 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 during the Brown administration, 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 the passing of the three Bills.

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), including 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 for 2017-36 which was the bill that modified the zoning code, as first drafted by the plaintiffs was 45 pages that made broad changes with a scalpel to Chapter 656 of the Zoning Code and the Springfield Overlay, was seen by most everyone as 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”.

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.

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 was rewritten, agreed to by the three plaintiffs, approved by the LUZ Committee and then without much further debate was passed out of the full council with a small amendment from CM Crescimbeni to add the Chief of Disabled Services to assist in verifying the disability of the applicant during a reasonable accommodation process. The Substitute Bill, introduced by CM Becton for which the LUZ Committee has passed and delivered to Council, resulted in a bill that is clear and understandable in its work that accomplished many improvements while “fundamentally remaining the same bill”, CM Becton explained.

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’s 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. Also, 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, and Ms. Alberta Hipps former City Councilwomen who was also involved with the original legislation back in 2000”. “For 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. We can all be congratulated for getting this chapter of Jacksonville’s past behind us.”

“Again, thank you everyone.” 

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