St. Johns Avenue development hearings deferred

Developer asking for time to refine plan

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

After earlier public statements about having to adhere to strict schedules for submission of the proposed redevelopment of the Commander Apartment and the adjoining retail/office center, Attorney Steve Diebenow, applicant on behalf of Chase Properties, requested a two-cycle deferral for the public hearings, which were scheduled to begin June 11 before City Council.

Part of the need for the deferral was the lack of a report issued by the Planning Department, which has asked the applicant for more information. Until some holes are filled in, the Planning Department cannot render a report.

Since both ordinances (2013-0341 and 2013-0342) had been put on the June 11 City Council calendar prior to the request for deferral, public comment on the legislation was accommodated.  Unfortunately for the five residents who attended in opposition to the current development plan, the issue did not get recognized on the floor until 11:40 p.m.  Avondale resident Jeff Graf, who was unable to stay for the duration of the long meeting, said that during the session’s General Comments period Diebenow requested the deferral because the developer needed more time to get feedback from Riverside Avondale Preservation and the immediate community, to complete the proposals with actual drawings, and to hold another community meeting.

That community meeting, described as a town hall/discussion meeting, has been scheduled by District 14 Councilman Jim Love for Wednesday, July 17, at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at the FSCJ Kent Campus on Roosevelt Boulevard.

One of the issues that must be addressed, for example, according to Graf, is the lack of concrete information about the structures, including elevations and the exact square footage for the proposed residential, non-residential, parking garage(s), and flat lot parking. “Until that exists,” he said. “There’s no way to tell what they’re looking for.” Another issue, he said, “is the gross overreach in size of what was requested – 595,000 square feet with over four times the density on the two parcels now.” That square footage includes all structures, including a five-story parking garage.

Nearby residents want to see a plan that complies with the Riverside Avondale Overlay, including its 60 foot height restriction, and complements the historic neighborhood. According to the proposed plan, development – including structures, surface parking and pool – will result in 85 percent lot coverage of both parcels. Residents are concerned that the applicant’s high density and proposed lot coverage will not afford the scale of buildings and amount of green space that would be complementary to the adjacent residential neighborhoods.

Although the deferral was granted, two more previously scheduled meetings allowed both the applicant and the public to speak about the two ordinances. A Planning Commission meeting on June 13 and a Land Use and Zoning Committee meeting on June 18 were attended by a representative of the applicant and several Avondale residents.

Unless deferred again, after the July 17 town hall meeting, the next critical dates include a public hearing before City Council on July 23, in which the applicant will make a presentation and the public will be given the opportunity to speak for three minutes per ordinance per registered attendee.  There will not be full discussion by City Council about the ordinances at this meeting.

After that, on July 25, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing, which includes the same presentation and public comment period, followed by questions from and discussion among the commission, and a vote or a deferral to vote. If the Planning Commission takes a vote, they can approve as presented, approve with conditions, approve with amendments recommended, deny, or defer it again, so there is a delay in moving forward.

Two more meetings are currently scheduled for August. The first will be a public hearing before the Land Use & Zoning Committee on Aug. 6, following the same format as with the Planning Commission public hearing, with the possibility of delays. The second and final meeting will be a public hearing on Aug. 13 by City Council on matters underlying the bill, which includes both ordinances. They can vote for the bill as is, with amendments or defer it again, so there is a delay in resolution.

All noted meetings are subject to change and if they are deferred, the subsequent previously calendared dates may still appear on the agendas, giving the opportunity for public comment.  As previously noted, there may be additional City meetings at the Planning Commission level, the Land Use and Zoning Committee level and at City Council, so there is a delay moving forward at each level.  These matters could take months to resolve.

For more information residents can visit a neighborhood website, http://commander-rezoning.com for a copy of the proposed PUD, updates on meeting schedules and outcomes, or refer to the City calendars and agendas for the Planning Commission, Land Use & Zoning Committee, and City Council. You can also call the City’s Planning Department at
(904) 255-7800.

Despite the four to five week reprieve, Graf remains skeptical that the current deferrals will be adequate. “There still may not be enough time to get this information [from the developer], assess it and then get back to him with recommendations,” he said. “The most important thing is that we need adequate time for a constructive back-and-forth before the decision-making bodies can take it up again.”

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