Council denies rezoning request

The owner of a Seymour apartment complex says he has done everything right to clean up the former Silver House Apartments at 390 and 400 South Jackson Park Drive.

From enforcing longer leases to screening tenants and having a property manager and maintenance worker on site, Rich Fishman of Texas said the complex, renamed Jackson Manor Apartments, is run “very well” and is a far cry from the “flophouse” it once was.

But city officials still have denied Jackson Park 400 LLC’s request to rezone the apartments so they can operate under the proper zoning classification.

City council members voted 4-3 Monday to deny the request, with councilmen Lloyd Hudson, Shawn Malone and Matt Nicholson casting votes of approval. The matter received an unfavorable vote from the plan commission last month.

Fishman purchased the 51-unit apartments three years ago from PNC Bank, which had foreclosed on them. He recently requested the city rezone the properties from C-5, commercial industrial, to C-4, central business, which allows for multi-family housing.

The property has been operating as apartments by court order after the city sued the developer, Rod Ludwig, for building the complex in a commercial district in 1995. At the time they were built, Ludwig billed the apartments as a motel with short-term lodging.

Ludwig died in 2009, and the apartments went into receivership.

Rezoning would increase chances of securing financing to continue to make improvements to the apartments, Fishman said.

Nicholson said he’s not surprised the request was denied, but the situation will remain the same now.

“Change cannot happen if we don’t change one of the inputs,” he said Tuesday. “Maybe with a change in zoning, the current owner would take the chance to improve the property. Maybe with a change in zoning, it would make it more marketable to a local investor and lead to the property being better than it currently is.”

Several surrounding business owners spoke against the rezone Monday, including Ryan and Ron Blevins of auto repair shop Puck’s Inc., Mary Beth Hamilton of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Jeff Williams of O’Reilly Auto Parts.

They contend the apartments are not being operated properly and that they haven’t seen enough improvements in conditions or tenants to warrant any changes in zoning.

Attorney Jeff Lorenzo, who is representing Jackson Park 400 LLC in the matter, said by rezoning the apartments, the city would not be allowing more apartments to be built, which was one of the concerns of those speaking against the request.

“What we are trying to do is figure out what is best suited and closest to the current zoning, so moving from C-5, which is the broadest and least restrictive commercial category, to C-4 seemed to us to be the best opportunity not only for us but for the city to have consistent zoning in this area,” he said.

Lorenzo said rezoning the property won’t harm anyone because it won’t change the way the property is used.

“That building has been there for over 20 years. It’s going to continue to be there. It’s going to continue to be an apartment complex,” he said. “So how do we make our zoning code consistent with the use and how do we make the use consistent with our zoning code?”

Ryan Blevins said the apartments are the reason there is a lot of crime in the area.

That used to be the case, but police haven’t been called to the apartments since November, said property manager June Creech.

“We got it with a bad reputation,” Creech said of the apartments. “Many of the previous tenants were felons, but it has improved tremendously. It’s a great place for individuals or young couples to start renting.”

Creech said the minimum lease is now one year, so there aren’t as many people coming and going as often as there were in the past.

Tom Gray, owner of T&T Body Shop in Seymour, said he rents one of the apartments for an employee and has for the past two years.

“I had to fill out a pretty detailed application,” Gray said. “They run a tight ship, and for some people, it’s the only place in town they can afford.”

A few tenants attended Monday’s meeting in support of the rezone.

Fishman, who owns 5,000 apartments all over the country, said he now wishes he hadn’t purchased and invested in Silver House.

“I’m being held accountable for sins of the past,” he said. “I take personal affront, and I’m here because I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’m proud of this property.”

He said there are problems at any apartment complex in America, including drug abuse and domestic violence.

“This is the country we live in,” he said. “But these 51 apartments are run very well. To say you don’t want this to be an apartment complex is crazy because it is an apartment complex.”

Fishman said if the city does not change the zoning, then it risks someone purchasing the apartments in the future and turning it back into a motel.

“If the city wanted something else there, they should have purchased the building from PNC, but that did not happen,” he said. “We need to move on and make lemonade. Lemonade is C-4 zoning.”