East San Marco arrival brings mixed emotions, thoughtful debate

East San Marco arrival brings mixed emotions, thoughtful debate

Traffic was the main topic of the Town Hall meeting, sponsored by the San Marco Preservation Society last month, as the developers of East San Marco presented changes to the project that confirms a Publix-anchored supermarket as the primary retail tenant and the highest priced rents in the city for the apartments to be built above.

The project, approved in 2006, languished along with the economy, but now that businesses are booming again, or at least not going bust, developers are eager to modify the planned unit development to increase the density of the residential component of the project, which has shifted from condominiums to apartments.
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A traffic study concluded that when the vacant site on the corner of Atlantic Boulevard and Hendricks Avenue is filled with the four-story mixed use Mediterranean-style development, the traffic leaving the development is estimated to be reduced by 10 percent compared to what was projected in 2006. At that time, the Overland Bridge project was in the planning phases, and now plays a significant role in the plans.

Accommodations have since been made to alleviate the traffic considerations, with a dedicated entrance to I-95 for the Atlantic Blvd corridor in San Marco. The most recent traffic study was based on an expected completion date of 2017, when construction is finished, the project is leased out and the Overland Bridge project has been completed.
Hugh Mathews, president of England–Thims & Miller, the developers’ engineering firm conducting the traffic study, explained the grading scale used to evaluate the traffic impact. Much like in elementary school, an A is the best grade and an F is the worst.

In the study, each of the intersections surrounding the project was given grades for morning and for evening traffic, respectively. Mathews said that upon East San Marco’s completion, traffic generated at Hendricks Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard would be graded C both morning and evening; traffic at Atlantic Boulevard and Mango would be an A/B both morning and evening; and traffic at Alford and Hendricks Avenue an A morning, B evening.

While those grades may be passable, some residents questioned the plausibility of a denser project generating less traffic.

San Marco resident Fred Lambrou commented publicly at the meeting that it sounded like “there was some serious grade inflation,” considering the light at Alford and Hendricks Avenue barely gets tripped now and there are going to be 280 or more apartment residents trying to leave for work at the same time.

Homeowners located in the immediate vicinity of the proposed development met with Jim Robinson, Director of Public Works for the City of Jacksonville, after the Town Hall meeting to discuss strategies for calming cut-through traffic that they anticipate will result from the retail and rental activity.

Despite the increase in units from a proposed 125 condominiums to a 240-unit apartment complex, Regency Centers and Whitehall Realty Advisors, the developers of East San Marco, say there will be more parking, not less, since they reduced retail space from 57,000 to 46,000 square feet.

To accommodate the larger number of residential units, developers have increased parking from 440 spaces to 593 spaces. There will be separate parking access for retail customers and renters will be able to park on the same level of their unit.

Some residents, disappointed about the proposed project transitioning from 1,600-square-foot condominiums to 900-square-foot apartments, voiced their concerns about the kind of people the project will attract.

Still, developers and proponents of the project contend that East San Marco will be a benefit to the neighborhood.
Marc Munago, a developer with Whitehall Realty Partners, is confident that the apartment complex and retail space will appeal to an upscale demographic, likely single professionals who value the specialty restEastSanMarco_05aurants and boutiques in the neighborhood.

“We will have the highest rents in Jacksonville, mainly because it’s the best spot in Jacksonville,” explained Munago.
While rent prices have not been finalized, they are estimated to start at $1,000, and go up to $2,200 a month for larger units.
Jen Holdman, a San Marco resident, spoke at the meeting explaining that she fits the demographic that the developers are targeting describing herself as a young professional, married, with no children and a renter. She explained that “she lived in a smaller place than she ever imagined,” because she wanted to live in San Marco so badly.
Holdman said she plans to continue to invest in the community. “These are the shops where we shop, it’s where we buy Christmas presents, buy birthday presents, it’s where we walk to lunch, it’s where we go to church. It is where we spend our time and our money.”

Development issues déjà vu

It is also where Mike Balanky, president of Chase Properties, the developer working on the St Johns Village/Commander Apartments project in Avondale, cautioned that the alternatives that could be built in the space could be a lot worse. “Density is not a four-letter word,” Balanky said. “If Jacksonville wants to be a grown-up town like everybody says we want too, then we all have to make a point to educate ourselves on what good sustainable development is. Just because something new is coming to your neighborhood doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.”

Balanky faced the same types of complaints – traffic, scale, unit type and density – during the 9-month Planned Development Unit (PUD) approval process for his project in Avondale.

Pat Andrews, a San Marco resident, said she is disappointed in the scale of the project that has a maximum height of 70 feet, which means part of the structure will rise 20 feet higher than Landon Middle School. “The project is out of proportion for the beautiful neighborhood I moved into 20 years ago.”
But the scale of the units themselves, the majority of which will be studio and one-bedroom apartments, is smaller than realtor Missie Sarra LePrell prefers. “The kind of people you are catering to…needs more than one bedroom.”

District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer made it clear at the start of the meeting that since the project has been previously approved, the focus needs to be on the changes to the current plan. “We are not starting with nothing,” Boyer explained. We are looking at what was approved in 2006 and comparing it to the changes now.”
Remaining unchanged from the original plans are 35 multi-family units that will be located on the third parcel of land closest to Fletcher Park. Wells Fargo has already developed the second parcel of land and sits in the middle of the proposed retail and apartment space and the planned multi-family units. Publix is still committed to anchor the retail space, the size of which also remains unchanged from the original plans and is targeted to open in 2016.

Besides the residential component, the project has the potential to enhance business activity within San Marco Square and the surrounding areas.
Kiley Efron, president of the San Marco Merchant’s Association, said the project has the support of businesses in the Square. “We already feel like we are a premier neighborhood to have a business in and this is only going to round that out.”

By Lara Patangan
Resident Community News

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