Chase Properties granted approval to develop mixed-use project

Chase Properties granted approval to develop mixed-use project

Give and take successful in long, drawn-out application process –

On a special meeting night, after four hours of testimony, the Land Use and Zoning Committee (LUZ) of the City Council approved unanimously to accept the application known as Ordinance 2013-0342 for rezoning to a planned unit development.
chase StJohnsVillageBuffer
Although several individuals spoke in opposition at the special Jan. 9 LUZ hearing – either to the project as a whole or to specific parts of it – representatives of several neighborhood associations did speak in favor of the development.

In fact, those same representatives made a request to the members of LUZ to relax the Jacksonville Zoning Code Part 6 parking requirements rather than agree to additional parking that would be obtained by adding another level to the four-floor parking garage. The committee accepted the recommendation, resulting in a minimum of 1.65 parking spaces per residential unit.

All in all, after more than eight months on the drawing board, the final plan was acceptable to Riverside Avondale Preservation, the Fishweir Neighborhood Association and the Arden Group, homeowners on a few streets that are adjacent to the contested parcel.

Eleventh hour negotiations

The first to present public comments at the LUZ hearing, Jonathan Oliff, representing RAP, said “From the very beginning, RAP was very clear that there were three big picture concerns. First, a request that the land use be changed for the portion of this property was, from day one, not acceptable. Number two was how the development of the whole was buffered from the adjacent single-family homes. Third was the size and intensity of the development.”

The final give-and-take, negotiated the night before the LUZ hearing, was about the buffer between the homes on duPont Circle and the development. The final agreement includes a 40-foot landscaped buffer and/or building setback, with an eight-foot high wall between the property lines.

“RAP made it clear that buffering this development was the most important thing, as equally as important as the size of the development,” said Oliff during the hearing. “It’s still going to be a big building that’s right next to single-family residential. But we have achieved a balance between the development and the
neighborhood.”

In his remarks after the public comment period, Mike Balanky, president and CEO of Chase Properties, said “This building has been there a long, long time and it’s been the residence of choice for many influential people around Jacksonville. It was controversial, to say the least, when it was constructed and so it’s been a local lightening rod for a long time. The facility has reached its useful life and it’s time for something to change.”

Balanky expressed appreciation for the efforts of District 14 Councilman Jim Love in facilitating the negotiations during a six-month period. Love scheduled three community meetings, open to the public, as well as a number of closed-session meetings between the developer, attorney Steve Diebenow and representatives of the
community.

“For most of the past year we’ve reached out to the community and I can tell you today, that my meetings with the neighbors and with RAP have actually made this a much better project than we originally envisioned,” said Balanky. “I can’t thank the people enough – even those who have been in opposition to this – who have been extremely professional and respectful, and that was what we hoped for from the very beginning. Councilman Love set the tone for that from the very beginning. It’s been a very respectful process, and it has been a give and take.”

For the record, Councilman Love asked the question that those opposing have been arguing about: “Some people still have concerns about the number of units,” said Love. “Is it possible for you to drop the number of units by 20 and if not, why not?” According to Balanky, the project had been “skinnied down” as much as possible.

“We’re spending a lot of money already, more than a million dollars, on public improvements for this project, that have been requested of us and we’ve agreed to do that. We’ve relocated units from the 300 building to other units and that became much more expensive to do that,” he responded. “There’s a matter of economics in any development, and lenders have to have a certain yield or they will not lend on the project. Even with no debt on the property, we barely make that yield as it is. That’s why we’re not asking for city subsidies; we never intended to do that anyway.”

Next Steps

Since approval of the development by City Council on the following Tuesday, Jan. 14, tenants of the apartment building and the retail center have been wondering what’s next.
A letter signed by “Management” of St. Johns Village Center, dated Jan. 16, was delivered to each retail tenant, attempting to dispel rumors of an April 1, 2014 demolition date – which was included in the final PUD, under PUD Development Criteria, Item IV. P: “It is anticipated that demolition of the existing structures will occur on or about April 1, 2014 and construction of the Development will commence immediately thereafter. Applicant plans to complete the Development by March 31, 2017.”
Balanky has shared that tenants will be given six months to vacate the premises, referring all questions about notifications to a representative of NewYork-based Palatine Capital Partners, which has an office in Miami, FL.

The approved application includes a condition that RAP will be given the opportunity to review and comment on the architectural and site plans and elevations, ensuring that the final development will, as Balanky stated, “fit the fabric of Avondale.”
By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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