A request to rezone property on South Jackson Park Drive in Seymour has drawn fire and complaints from surrounding business owners.

Attorney Jeff Lorenzo recently went before the Seymour Plan Commission to make the request on behalf of Jackson Park 400 LLC, which owns Jackson Manor Apartments, also known as Silver House Apartments.

Lorenzo said the owners want to rezone 390 and 400 S. Jackson Park Drive from C-5 (Commercial Industrial) to C-4 (Central Business) to correspond with the current use of the land as multi-family, residential housing. That use has been in place for more than 20 years, Lorenzo said.

Story continues below gallery

The 51-unit, two-building Jackson Manor, located behind Kentucky Fried Chicken, originally was built by Rod Ludwig in 1995. It was billed by Ludwig as a hotel but instead has served as long-term residential apartments, known to house low-income renters.

After the apartments were built, the city sued Ludwig, and a consent decree was reached in Jackson Circuit Court saying Ludwig had to have a front-desk manager on site and centralized mailboxes in order to operate more as a hotel.

Lorenzo said the consent decree later was amended, allowing Silver House to operate as an apartment building.

“The intention is to rezone from C-5, which is the broadest commercial category, and allows everything from light industrial to retail commercial to a more restrictive category, which is C-4,” Lorenzo said. “The reason we selected C-4 is because it allows multi-family residential.”

Building commissioner Jeremy Gray said C-4 zoning is used for downtown properties where there is a commercial business on the first floor and residential living on other floors.

Lorenzo said when he researched the definition of C-4 zoning, he found it referred to a central business district, not the downtown.

Although there are no pending offers to buy the properties, changing the zoning makes the property more marketable, Lorenzo said.

“There have been a number of offers to purchase the property, but when a bank looks at this and sees the zoning does not include multi-family residential, it is a real detriment to the sale,” he said.

Ryan Blevins, owner of Puck’s Inc., an auto repair shop located near the apartments, said he and other business owners oppose the rezone.

“That place was never properly done 20 years ago, and it really needs to go away,” Blevins said. “We’ve got a problem out there, and I don’t think you people realize it.”

Blevins said the apartments are the reason there is a lot of crime in the area. He recently requested a report from the police department to find out how many times the police have responded to the apartments in the past year.

“They were there over 100 times in 365 days this last year,” he said. “They made 14 arrests. Every couple of days, I see the sheriff’s department over there, and they’re either taking a subpoena over or they’re hauling someone out.

“This is an environment that’s not good,” he added. “It’s a mess.”

Blevins said he has picked up syringes, condoms and trash from around his business and has to deal with residents’ dogs and cats that urinate and defecate on his grass.

“They throw mattresses. They throw their clothes and whatever else over the fence for us to clean up,” he said. “I’m tired of cleaning up. Something needs to be done about it.”

He also said a number of vehicles have been vandalized in Bob Poynter’s automobile dealership lot, which is across the street from the apartments.

Another concern Blevins brought up is the safety of children living in the apartments because of the number of semis that drive back to the new Cummins warehouse and Home Products International.

“We’ve got kids playing in that street because they don’t have a place to play,” he said. “I’m scared to death to back out of the shop because there might be a kid riding a bicycle behind me. You folks need to stop and realize what is happening at this place.”

Mary Beth Hamilton, co-owner of Kentucky Fried Chicken, said she and the other business owners shouldn’t have to put up with what’s going on. She said employees have witnessed people at the apartments using and selling drugs, and there is a concern for safety when employees leave at night.

“I think we need to look at how we want to go forward in Seymour with our housing,” she said. “The living conditions over there need to be examined.”

Jeff Williams with O’Reilly’s Auto Parts said his biggest concern is that someone is going to run over someone walking across the street or parking lot to get to the apartments.

“Somebody is going to get hurt or killed at some point,” he said.

After 45 minutes of comments and discussion, the commission voted 9-1 to deny the rezone request. Commissioner Jeri Wells was the only member to vote in favor.

It was forwarded to the city council with an unfavorable recommendation. The council will hear the request during a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the city hall.

Lorenzo said the zoning isn’t ideal and the apartments probably weren’t built in the right area from the start.

“But it’s been there as long as we can remember, and it’s not going away any time soon,” he said. “It’s going to continue to be a residential apartment building because a court order says it’s going to be a residential apartment building.

“This is not going to change the situation relevant to police, living conditions and so forth. None of that, honestly, is germane to this particular issue,” he added. “Those are issues for either the health department or the police department or the mayor’s office.”

Lorenzo said there are a number of residential properties in commercial zoning around U.S. 50, including Somerset Apartments behind The Point.

“We believe that this fits, and we also believe, given the court order that is in place, what we’re doing is going to be consistent with the order that’s currently been issued by Judge (Rick) Poynter,” Lorenzo said.

Commissioner Kenny Pfaffenberger said he agreed with the business owners.

“I don’t think this ought to be changed to make it easier for them to do this,” he said of Jackson Park 400 LLC. “They’ve never taken care of their property. They don’t manage their people, and I don’t see the point of bending over backwards to do something for them when they never do anything for the people.”

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.