JEFFERSONVILLE — After two previous proposals went belly up in other parts of Jeffersonville, the company behind the Mariposa Springs project now has plans to place a permanent supportive housing complex in a different location.
According to Gary Hobbs, CEO of BWI, he is now looking to locate the 45-unit Mariposa Springs — which would house the homeless and disabled — at 241 Eastern Blvd.
On Tuesday, dozens of Claysburg residents gathered in the Ken Ellis Center to discuss their concerns over the project with Hobbs.
"When I went to the Plan Commission meeting, they said Claysburg wasn't even on the radar as far as BWI coming in, yet here we are," said Carol Moon, president of the Claysburg Neighborhood Association. "If you don't have a seat at the table, you're on the menu. The fortunate thing was that I was able to get information to contact Gary at BWI and ask him to come in. This meeting has been scheduled since we heard they were coming. We made fliers, and we canvassed the neighborhood."
Hobbs said he already has a purchase agreement in place for the property with conditions. Unlike the two previous proposals, the design this time around would incorporate a grocery store — something Hobbs thought would bring the community on board with the project.
"We thought this site right here was an ideal location," Hobbs said. "We thought the community here would embrace it, especially with the grocery store. We thought that with that, it would be more acceptable. We're still going to continue to try to fight for the community we serve — the homeless — but also see if there's a way to make it palatable for the broader community as well."
The more than 60 residents in attendance, however, were not receptive to Hobbs ideas.
Among them was Arvand Bhatt, who owns several hotels in the area — including some adjacent to the property in question. He fears that if another service-based facility comes to the area, his businesses will lose customers.
"Right now, day by day, it's getting worse," Bhatt said. "These homeless people, the soup kitchen people, when they're looking for a place to live, they sneak into the hotel and go in the lobby and sleep in the corridor. We have to call the police all the time. I'm worried about my investment. People coming in from out of town are scared to death. They don't want to see people walking around their cars with no clothes on. That will hurt us very bad."
It's not that Bhatt is against helping the homeless, he noted. Rather, he believes that there are already too many similar facilities in the area. It's the concentration, he said, that's the issue.
Echoing this was Jeffersonville City Council member Dustin White, who attended the meeting.
"The Haven House was brought out here from Market Street," White said. "You have Community Kitchen, which used to be at Big Four Station. When you take things from one part of town and put it in the other, you have a concentration which then supports the continuing narrative that it's a bad neighborhood."
But White said that conception is untrue, and that Claysburg is a neighborhood full of life just like every other part of Jeffersonville. Because of that, he said, it should be respected as such.
"If it's not good enough for Ewing Lane, if it's not good enough for Sandy Heights, it's not good enough for Claysburg," White said. "We're all equal neighborhoods here. We're not going to be a dumping ground for something other neighborhoods don't want."
Instead of adding more support institutions like Mariposa Springs, White and Moon — who organized Tuesday's meeting — said that Claysburg should add other amenities to promote its upward trajectory.
"We celebrated the EnVision Center today, which is great," Moon said. "But I'm envisioning so much more for Claysburg. The EnVision Center is an excellent start. We've been doing this for so long. We're so happy that the city is putting in dollars. We're looking for more assets, and I do believe we're on the right track."
White said the property must be rezoned for the project to go through, similar to previous proposals for Mariposa Springs. Hobbs will go before the Plan Commission next week to make his case.
"It's my understanding that for this project to be submitted for funding at the state level, the zoning at the proposed site has to be changed," White said. "This is why at the last Plan Commission meeting I said that I didn't want to change the Sandy Heights zoning until I had a guarantee that this wouldn't be next, because I had a feeling it would be, and here we are."
White, who sits on the Plan Commission, said that if similar concerns to those voiced Tuesday are brought up at the plan commission meeting, he and his colleagues will take them into consideration before voting.
"We will give the application a fair review," White said. "If the residents come out and express what they expressed tonight, we will take that into consideration and vote accordingly."
Moon said she was thrilled with Tuesday's turnout. Showing up once, however, isn't enough, she added. At next week's meeting, she said she will be in attendance and hopes to be joined by many of those who joined her Tuesday.
"I know that we're on the right track with the people that came out to support, to hear what's going on and to say 'no' to BWI," Moon said. "We do not want it at our front door, we don't want it at our side windows, and we definitely don't want it at our back door. The location he's looking to put it at is right at our back door."
The Plan Commission will meet at Jeffersonville City Hall at 6 p.m. July 23.