Miss Margie’s house demolished for Hallmark Partners project

Miss Margie’s house demolished for Hallmark Partners project

RAP concerned about demolition of 90-year-old building –

Miss Margie’s house stood at the end of Bishopgate Lane for nearly 90 years, now it is gone.
Gone without conversation, debate or compromise. Gone without consideration for its historic significance. Demolished into unsalvageable rubble to make way for a Hallmark Partners residential project, the process leading to its demise raised concerns from Riverside Avondale Preservation.

“The building was not in the Historic District so the demolition was legal, but we would have liked to have had the chance to discuss alternatives,” said Carmen Godwin, RAP executive director. “Just because a building hasn’t been identified as a historically contributing structure doesn’t mean it isn’t worth saving.”
The building, in fact, had some historical significance.

Miss Margie’s house at 555 Bishop Gate Lane before demolition. Photo provided by Wayne Wood

Miss Margie’s house at 555 Bishop Gate Lane before demolition. Photo provided by Wayne Wood

Margaret Gould Weed – Miss Margie to neighbors – built the house in 1926 on the street named after her father, Bishop Edwin Gardner Weed, third Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida. She was active in community, religious and patriotic affairs, most notably serving 12 years with Duval County Board of Public Instruction and as president of Episcopal Women’s Auxiliary. She lived in the Bishopgate Lane house until her death in 1961, selling it that year to Duval County Medical Society for $25,000.

They owned it until selling to Hallmark Partners in October for $675,000, according to Bryan Campbell, DCMS executive director.
It was during that ownership transfer, on Oct. 2, when Miss Margie’s house came down.

Godwin first learned of the demolition application Aug. 27 from Joel McEachin, supervisor of historic preservation in the City of Jacksonville’s Planning and Development Department. At that time, she and Kay Ehas, RAP’s vice-chairperson of historic preservation, expressed their concerns and tried for six weeks to schedule a meeting with Hallmark’s partners to discuss alternatives to demolition.

“We were scheduled to meet with Alex Coley and Bryan Weber of Hallmark to discuss the building the day it was demolished, but they cancelled. We wanted to explore moving it or, at least, salvaging parts. But it wouldn’t have mattered because we were going to meet at the same time it was being demolished,” said Godwin, who heard about the demolition in real time via a phone call from Brenda Kolb, partner at TigerLily Media, an adjacent business.
That meeting eventually took place Oct. 11 in the city council offices and included Godwin, Ehas and Jonathan Oliff from RAP; Coley, Weber and attorney Steve Diebenow, from Hallmark; and District 14 Councilman Jim Love and his assistant, Kevin Kuzel.

Demolition of Miss Margie’s house on Oct. 2  Photos provided  by Carmen Godwin

Demolition of Miss Margie’s house on Oct. 2
Photos provided by Carmen Godwin

Three details surfaced since the demolition. First, removal of the building was one of Hallmark’s sales contract conditions. Second, DCMS technically demolished the building, as the official closing date was the day after demolition. And third, that closing date was moved up via an amendment to the original contract.
Howard J. Smith, attorney for DCMS, verified, “The demolition was done pursuant to the agreement contract,” and a deed filed with Duval County Clerk of Courts confirms the Oct. 3 closing. The date change is less clear. Both parties acknowledge the amendment, but when it occurred and who initiated it is in question.
“Hallmark originally planned to occupy on Oct. 15 but they amended the contract for us [DCMS] to give up occupancy on Sept. 30,” said Campbell, who operated under the original occupancy date as recently as Sept. 10.

Weber reportedly acknowledged the change at the meeting but contradicted Campbell as to who was responsible.
“Bryan [Weber] said Hallmark thought they were closing later in October and that’s why they scheduled our meeting for Oct. 2. He said the Medical Society moved up the date and he didn’t know the demolition was going to happen so soon,” Godwin said.
Either way, the process left Ehas disheartened.

“We weren’t told demolition was definitely happening by a date certain or that we should have been talking to another party,” Ehas said.
She also felt Coley should have informed RAP that a vacant lot was part of the sales agreement and expressed her frustration in an Oct. 2 post-demolition email sent to all who were subsequently present at the meeting:

“Requiring the current property owner to have it [the building] removed prior to purchase does not in any way absolve Hallmark Partners [from responsibility for the demolition]. This action is incredibly disappointing and shows a disregard for developing within a historic neighborhood.”
Godwin, Ehas and Love all walked away from the Oct. 11 meeting feeling that Coley and Weber did not take due responsibility for their part in the
demolition.

“They felt they did everything by the book, noted that they weren’t the ones who demolished the building and suggested we should have been more on top of what was happening,” Godwin said. “But our point was that they knew we were interested in moving the building; this is their first development in our neighborhood and they should have been more transparent and worked with us.”

While there was agreement to “better communicate moving forward,” according to Love, skepticism and questions remained about why the building was demolished without input from RAP and Hallmark’s plan for the site.

The now vacant property – 555 Bishopgate Lane – is across the street from Hallmark’s planned 56-unit luxury condominium Beacon Riverside but it is not part of Beacon’s planned unit development. It has been reported that the site was purchased solely as a staging area for Beacon. However, City Planning Division Chief Folks Huxford thinks Hallmark is planning a 12-unit multi-family development based upon an August meeting with Hallmark Senior Vice President Coen Purvis.
Also unclear is whether Hallmark’s plans include closing public access to the river at Bishopgate Lane as they seek to purchase additional property along the street. John Wood, owner of the TigerLily building, said Coley, Weber and Hallmark co-founder Jeff Conn invited him to meet on Aug. 27 to discuss purchasing his building. He declined their purchase offer.

Neither Coley nor Weber will verify Hallmark’s intentions for the site and failed to return numerous requests for information before and after the demolition of Miss Margie’s house.

In spite of the process leading to demolition, Godwin is looking forward.

“What is done is done. Our goal now is to make sure they communicate with us if any future projects involve the potential destruction of historic buildings. That includes identifying historic structures and coming up with specific procedures outlining how to address those that are outside of the Historic District,” she said, crediting Attorney Diebenow with suggesting RAP institute recommendations for developers who encounter such structures.
“The irony is that the things that make our neighborhood so great are the same things that make them want to develop here. It was we – the people who live in the neighborhood – who brought the Historic District back. If Hallmark wants to build here, then they need to respect the character of the area and behave like good neighbors,” Love said.

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

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