Across the country, abandoned hotels are being transformed from roadside ruins and into much-needed, permanent affordable housing. Jacksonville refuses to follow those trends, as last month a proposal was rejected to convert an abandoned hotel building near I-95 into a multi-family residential building featuring affordable housing units.

Last year a subsidiary of Code Capital Partners spent $775,000 to purchase a former hotel property at 5719 Cagle Road. The former motel has been a constant nuisance, having been issued a string of code compliance citations from just before it closed in 2007 through a partial demolition that was completed three years ago. The new owner had proposed to breathe new life into the building by converting the hotel into a multi-family structure with 86 one bedroom and studio apartments, 23 extended stay rental rooms, and a small amenity center.

Code Capital Partners, a real estate investment firm with offices in New York and Connecticut, specializes in developing, acquiring and rehabilitating affordable multifamily properties through Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) financing. The company owns more than 9,000 affordable housing units throughout the U.S., including low income housing holdings in Florida. Quite simply, this is a company that has delivered on their promise of providing adequate, affordable housing to people in need.

The 3-story, 89,574 square foot hotel building was originally opened in 1973 and sits in a centralized location near University Boulevard, Bowden Road, and the I-95 Expressway. The property is zoned CCG-1. The redevelopment proposal sought to receive an exception, as the CCG-1 zoning designation requires that multi-family residential development possess a mixed use component, with residential uses not exceeding 80 percent of the building and no more than 60 housing units per acre.

City staff recommended the exception to be denied, in part due to incompatibility with surrounding development. The City describes the area as being highly commercial in nature with surroundings (including commercial and industrial users) that are not conducive to a residential use of this intensity. The City’s Planning Commission agreed with staff’s recommendation, and voted to deny the exception request as 2018 came to and end with minimal discussion on the matter.

A Day’s Inn and EconoLodge hotel are located immediately adjacent to the proposed affordable housing project along Cagle Road.

The property in question is adjacent to two operating hotels, a single family home, and is less than a 1/2 mile from an interchange onto I-95 Expressway. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s new First Coast Flyer, a premium bus rapid transit service running into downtown, is a 3 block walk from the subject property. Furthermore, the vibrant employment cluster along the Butler Boulevard Corridor is less than 3 miles (accessible by both automobile and public transit) from the site. Despite being centrally located with nearby public transportation accessing closely-located employment clusters (both Downtown and the Butler Boulevard Corridor are just minutes away), City staff determined that the affordable housing redevelopment proposal “does not provide a decent housing opportunity for residents”.

Launched in 2016, JTA’s “Blue Line” is a $23.8 million high-frequency bus service serving as the serves as the backbone to Jacksonville’s regional transit system. JTA has touted this service as being the largest bus rapid transit system of its kind in the Southeast and designed to “connect customers to jobs, education, entertainment, restaurants and healthcare”. This picture depicts one of seven branded stations within the Blue Line, which is located within walking distance of the Cagle Road hotel slated for redevelopment into affordable housing.

When last operated as a hotel, the property consisted of 151 units in total, with 54 one-bedroom units and 97 efficiency units. Code Capital’s redevelopment proposal actually reduces the existing building’s intensity through a reduction in the number of total housing units. Compounding the oddity of the denial, several multifamily developments of higher intensity are also located in “heavily commercialized areas near industrial users” along the Philips Highway Corridor.

The Jacksonville Townhouse Apartments located at 3465 Philips Highway, is a 9-story, 250-unit apartment building located on 91,681-square feet. Built in 1978 and located in a location between I-95 and Philips (similar to the Cagle Road hotel site), the development caters to elderly, low-income residents who rely on Section 8 housing vouchers.

Work is expected to start in late 2019 on San Marco Crossing at Kings Avenue between Olevia Street and Mitchell Avenue. The project consists of the redevelopment of a 6.8 acre-site that is polluted with traces of arsenic and benzene. The project has been approved by the City to construct up to 330 market-rate apartments and eight two-story townhomes.

Work has begun on the first of two stages for San Marco Promenade along Philips Highway between Mitchell Avenue and River Oaks Road. The 17-acre site is permitted for the construction of up to 650 market-rate residential units and 20,000 square feet of commercial space. When all phases of both San Marco Crossing and San Marco Promenade are completed, it is expected that upwards of 1,600 residents will be added to a “heavily commercialized” area adjacent to light industrial users and auto storage facilities.

Nestled between San Marco Crossing and San Marco Promenade, are two separate hotels that are both similar in size and scale to the Cagle Road property being proposed for redevelopment into affordable housing. Why is this level of housing density appropriate here, but is deemed inappropriate just a few miles up the road in an environment that shares the exact same physical and contextual characteristics?

The location of the proposed affordable housing buildings on Cagle Road also have the unique advantage of bypassing much of the NIMBY-led resistance that places constraints on such projects. Not being located in a neighborhood full of single family homeowners, is actually a positive for would-be affordable housing developers, who would not have to navigate through the often-wildly, racially-segregated concerns of nearby neighbors.

Next: The Supply Of Affordable Housing Units Reaching A Point Of Crisis Locally And Nationally