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Former Superfund site discussed as Sulzbacher homeless center ponders move from downtown

Two area council members prefer commercial use.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A former EPA Superfund site on the Northwest side of Jacksonville that was given a clean bill of health in 2020 is among multiple locations being considered as a new site for the Sulzbacher homeless center, which is currently in cramped quarters north of downtown Jacksonville.

But the move is still two to three years away, said Sulzbacher CEO Cindy Funkhauser, and the nonprofit's criteria for its new home is not even finalized.

"We are looking for minimum of eight to 10 acres, outside the urban core, near the interstate because we are looking at doing a manufacturing enterprise potentially," she said. "Very preliminary concepts at this point."

About the Superfund site:After cleanup at old Jacksonville pollution site, neighbors, city wonder how to reuse land 

But two City Council members — Garrett Dennis and Ju'Coby Pittman — began a push last November to ensure that the site was developed for commercial use, such as a grocery or drug store. 

The 12-acre site is in Dennis' district and across the street from Pittman's. Pittman, who herself runs a downtown nonprofit that serves the homeless, grew up in the area.

"I don't think it's a good fit," she said. "That community has had a lot of disparity. Bringing in a homeless center would not be an asset. … A lot of initiatives get dumped in the northwest quadrant, but we are trying to beautify the area."

Dennis could not be reached.

The site at 2610 Fairfax St. — south of Martin Luther King Boulevard and near RV Daniels Elementary School — was Fairfax Street Wood Treaters beginning in 1980. When the company went bankrupt and closed in 2010, tanks of chemicals in poor condition were left behind, with stormwater flowing off the property.

Tests showed the area was tainted by substances in chromated copper arsenate, a compound used to pressure-treat lumber to resist rotting. The site was added to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund list — the nation’s most contaminated land — and eventually, about 60,000 tons of tainted soil was removed and replaced with new soil and an estimated 300,000 gallons of water were processed to decontaminate the area.

From 2020:Off EPA's priorities list, Fairfax Street pollution cleanup celebrated as 'poster child'

In October 2020, the head of the EPA and city officials held a ceremony at the site to celebrate the completed cleanup and Fairfax Street's removal from the Superfund list. 

The following month, Dennis and Pittman organized an online meeting about potential future uses of the site. They said they favored a grocery or drug store to not only provide jobs but nutrition for residents in an area that is a food desert.

They do not want residential use in case the EPA "missed a spot" and new contamination claims arise later, Dennis said at the time.

The council members also asked city officials to investigate the best uses for the site, but Pittman said Friday she did not know if that had been done because of the pandemic.

The Mayor's Office did not respond to two requests for comment.

Sulzbacher has already opened one offshoot of its downtown center, which is behind the Jacksonville jail.

In 2018 the $21 million Sulzbacher Village — 5455 Springfield Blvd., at 44th and Pearl streets — began providing a subsidized, permanent housing community for homeless women and children in Jacksonville. The complex has 70 units for single women, female veterans and single- and two-parent families, totaling about 340 people.

Sulzbacher at 25:Nonprofit has been a 'gift' to Jacksonville and its homeless

About 30 additional units accommodated women and families in need of short-term emergency housing and medical respite. On-site, residents receive case management, behavioral health services, job training and life skills and there are also health care and other programs for children and teens.

bcravey@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4109