Elderly and low income Jeffersonville neighbors caught in zoning - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Elderly and low income Jeffersonville neighbors caught in zoning fight

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Elderly and low income neighbors in Jeffersonville are caught in the middle of a zoning fight that could force them out of their home.

Martha Russelburg is a 66-year-old widow living on $1,100 a month social security. She survives sharing a house with 10 other people, called Riverside Meadows. "I feel like this is my family," said Russelburg.

Darrenda Stepro is a member of that family, a neighbor who shares Russelburg's love of the residence. "It's convenient and nice and I love it," said Stepro. "It's everything I can expect it to be." These neighbors now worry about eviction, because the property owner moved them in illegally. "I'd probably be living under a bridge," Stepro said.

The city of Jeffersonville rejected Riverside Meadows' zoning permit to run an assisted living home. The owners previously ran a similar facility that closed after the building had problems with the heat. They transferred all the residents who didn't require medical care to Riverside Meadows.

"This was set up as an eat, sleep and companionship," said owner Fouzia Shahnawaz. "They do not deserve to live in an assisted living or a nursing home, so this is a home for them." Shahnawaz describes the property as a rooming house, but there's only one problem.

"We don't have a rooming house in our zoning code," said Shane Corbin, Director of Jeffersonville Planning and Zoning.

The Catholic Church originally built the property off Chestnut Street in the early 1900's to house nuns across the street from St. Augustine's Catholic Church. More recently, Lifespring used it to house mentally ill clients. Riverside Meadow owners said they have not changed the structure, so it should still be approve  for shared use. The city said anytime a property changes hands it must meet the current zoning codes.

Riverside Meadows is trying again. The owners are asking the city to carve out a special variance -- particular zoning lines just for this property. It's the only way they can operate legally. They're also hosting an open house this week to invite neighbors who petitioned to try to block the business and city leaders to see how they operate.

"We're not going to give up ," said Shahnawaz. "We're going to fight."

Corbin said the city can shut down the property and force resident to leave. "We've never had to do anything like that, but I'm sure we could," Corbin said.

It's Russelburg's ultimate fear. She said Riverside Meadows may not be much but at least it's home. She said, "I'm very happy here."

The Riverside Meadows open house is set for 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon at the property 308 E. Chestnut Street in Jeffersonville. The zoning board hearing is scheduled for Oct. 28.

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