Historic districts present “historic” issues when it comes to maintenance

Blending of old with new amenities adds to livability

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

Running into Carmen Godwin, executive director of Riverside/Avondale Preservation Society, isn’t too difficult because she seems to be everywhere doing the business of the Historic District. But catching up with her to chat is easier said than done.

In the space of just one month, Godwin participated in meetings about the proposed Riverside dog park, the Riverside/Avondale parking study, the Riverside community garden, Historic District tree trimming, the 5 Points mobility study, Historic District sidewalk paver replacement, the St. Johns Avenue/Commander Apartments redevelopment, and an evening trolley program. And that’s just scratching the surface. Add in concerns about bicycle and pedestrian lanes and the Riverside Avenue bridge and roadwork at Willowbranch Creek, and you can start to get a good sense of how Godwin spends her days.

While not all issues and concerns are problems unique to historic districts, RAP seems to find itself in the trenches right now trying to ensure that new development, re-development or just plain maintenance is done according to standards befitting older communities.

One such concern is JEA’s approach to tree trimming. Godwin and others have been doing research in other cities’ historic districts to determine the best approach to keeping the historic tree canopies intact. “Others [cities] trim more often and less aggressively to keep the tree canopy intact,” said Godwin. “They may have more outages but are willing to accept less reliability to keep the tree canopy intact.”

Sidwalk_01According to Godwin, JEA won’t accept more outages and require 10 feet around the wires. “There are protections in the local ordinances for the tree canopy,” she noted. “There are only three historic districts here so they should look at tree trimming a little differently.”

Another area of historic concern is sidewalks. “We are also looking at replacing sidewalk pavers built with the neighborhoods that are at least 100 years old),” shared Godwin. “The City is tearing them out and putting in concrete; but it’s not easy to repair concrete breaks and they can’t match the historic pavers.”

Residents on Shadowlawn are facing the problem now, but even as the sidewalks are being torn up they’ve asked for a meeting with the City. Richard Skinner, who lives on that street, said “We have these octagon pavers that are part of the sidewalk’s heritage, probably a hundred years old. They [the City] want to repave with concrete and there’s no historic value to that. The pavers add a richness to the houses. There was no sensitivity to any of that.”

Skinner noted that homeowners are maintaining their properties according to Historic District standards, while the City is not meeting that same
obligation.

“We want to have an influence on what happens over here,” Skinner said. “Let’s come up with the right solution, with a standard set for the entire neighborhood. We would like to see the use and re-use of those pavers. There are new pavers available, so why can’t we just match that? These sidewalks will stay pretty level for 10 to 20 years. It’s better than pulling broken concrete out, disposing of it and re-pouring more concrete every few years.”

All the pavers were pulled for the first couple of homes on Shadowlawn from St. Johns Avenue and the sidewalks were left as dirt, while homeowners and RAP wait for a meeting with the City to discuss the alternative.

“It’s been three weeks. They’re looking at the cost benefits. But as a general rule their attitude around maintenance and upkeep is embarrassing,” concluded Skinner. “They [the City] will “not” do something in order to save money to the detriment of the aesthetics and the welfare of the population that lives here. We’re looking to set a standard that the City can follow [in other historic areas].”

Historic streets are typically narrower and that lends itself to yet another problem of “historic” proportions: parking. Whether it’s a perceived or actual lack of parking for shops in the historic districts such as 5 Points, Riverside’s Park and King, or The Shoppes of Avondale, homeowners and renters in those areas are just as concerned about the solutions.
Godwin noted that a lot of data has been gathered up to this point, including information about where fire hydrants and utilities are, the length and width of driveways and the number of multi-family dwellings in the districts. “About 20-30% of the study area is multi-family dwellings, which need more than one or two parking spaces,” said Godwin. “We will use this to look at current and future demand to come up with a solution.”

Sidewalk_02The community meetings to present parking solutions were tentatively scheduled for early August, however, the parking study committee only met once in July and will meet again Aug. 5 to determine a schedule for the community presentations.

None of these issues, however, are quite as time-consuming or contentious as that of the St. Johns Avenue retail center and Commander Tower Apartments proposed re-development.
Godwin has been in several meetings prior to the second town hall meeting on July 17. She and others from Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) met with Michael Balanky, the developer; Steve Diebenow, attorney representing Balanky and ELM, the architects who presented a new conceptual site plan.

“It’s a little bit closer,” RAP’s executive director said. “However, the [Riverside Avondale] Overlay provides for a 60-foot height limit and they are looking at several different heights within the property, from nine to 14 stories.”

A RAP community meeting with 30 to 40 residents indicated that “overwhelmingly the top concerns were height, the lot coverage (massing and scale),” continued Godwin. “In general, the feeling was that in 2005 there was a lot of back and forth and neighbors did not get what they wanted; they wanted a lot less but now they understand that it’s a different project, three times as much.”

Godwin said that increases in traffic, overall safety, and buffering from the nearby single family homes were the major concerns, along with the fact that obligations from the 2005-2006 Planned Unit Development (PUD) application are not in the current PUD.

Jeff Graf, who lives on Greenwood Avenue, explained that there were 17 obligations in the earlier PUD that were removed from the current PUD, including the escrow for dredging Fishweir Creek. “They [the developer] want to bootstrap their 2005 rights while jettisoning the obligations.”

While some of these issues simmer, Godwin has been working on plans for new amenities in the community.
The Riverside Dog Park is coming together. Although RAP has not been actively promoting the project until all the details were complete, they have raised about $10,000 to date for a park that will cost approximately $200,000. In addition to monetary donations, they are looking for in-kind donations, such as electrical work, concrete for walkways, lighting, fencing, labor and/or materials.

Godwin said they are considering other methods of raising funds, such as kickstarter or matching funds grants. Trey Csar, chairman of the dog park committee, noted that District 14 Councilman Jim Love has pledged to match up to $100,000 in funds, and “now it’s a question for the community.” Eighty percent of 450 people surveyed said they would regularly use the dog park, so it’s up to the community to help fund it and one way is through the purchase of brick pavers.

Csar, a dog owner himself, is a big believer in the community. “It’s less about the dogs than it is about building community,” he said. “A dedicated dog park would be an attractive feature to the Riverside Avondale community.”

RAP is also trying to put traction back on a community garden. “We were able to raise around $4,000 for the garden,” Godwin said. “Now we’re waiting for a contract with the City for use of the space.”

The City of Jacksonville is requiring disability accessibility to the site, which will cost another $10,000 for accessible parking spaces, walkways and raised beds for wheelchair bound gardeners. Godwin is asking if the City has funds for that requirement. The garden, which will be co-managed by RAP and Sustainable Springfield with individual plots as the preferred structure, is being considered in part of a vacant lot across from the Willowbranch Park.”

As if all that were enough to keep Godwin busy, she’s also managing the restoration of the Buckland House, which is on hold until she receives the agreement from the State of Florida for a grant. “The State hasn’t issued these types of grants in four years and they are reviewing their process,” noted Godwin. “The Special Category Grant is usually for large-scale historic preservation projects for the State, but Buckland House was ranked high [on their list] three to four years ago in the grant process and was allowed to roll over every year for past three years when funds were not available. It will not roll over for 2014, so we got lucky that we got funded this year.”

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