Third time may be the charm for Commander/St. Johns Village

Third time may be the charm for Commander/St. Johns Village
Two four-story apartment buildings front Fishweir Creek in a proposed redevelopment of St. Johns Village. (By Davis Architects)

Calling it “Commander 3.0,” Jeff Graf said he had “lived through” two previous versions and hoped this would be the last of what could happen to the property on St. Johns Avenue known as St. Johns Village and Commander Tower Apartments.

In a community meeting Aug. 29 at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Graf referred to prior Planned Unit Developments (PUD) in 2006 and 2014, which proved to be unfruitful attempts to update the 55-year-old property. He and other Arden neighborhood residents, as well as property owners in the Fairfax neighborhood across Fishweir Creek, and residents of the Fishweir neighborhood on the other side of St. Johns Avenue, battled the previous developments as having too much density and intensity.

The earlier proposals called for third-party development on property which would remain in the hands of the same family who had owned it since 1960. This time, however, Chance Partners are both owner and developer, having bought the property for $5.8 million in March 2016. “Having the owner as the zoning applicant is something unique and different from the prior versions of what you’ve been through with this property,” said T.R. Hainline Jr., of Rogers Towers, P.A., the attorney for developers Judd Bobilin and Jeff Rosen.

After the property is developed, Chance Partners will turn over management of the rentals to Pegasus Residential, an Atlanta-based company that currently manages several properties in Jacksonville.

The $41 million project includes renovation of the 16-story Commander Apartments, construction of two four-story apartment buildings, two two-story carriage buildings with two units each, and two townhomes with two units each. Chance Partners has included a cap on 228 units in its request to change the future land use designation from Community/General Commercial (CGC) to High Density Residential (HDR).

The townhomes were recently added to the plan to address the streetscape issue; the plan originally proposed a two-level parking garage up against St. Johns Avenue. Now the townhomes will front the property with the garage behind them at a lower elevation, and the garage will not be easily seen from the street.

While there are no plans to add water features to the property, such as docks, or to dredge Fishweir Creek, the applicants have asked for a conservation designation for a linear portion of the property along the creek, which would prevent future development at water’s edge.

There are still concerns about traffic in and out of the property, which allows for 320 parking spaces. Residents in the Arden neighborhood to the north of the development said they have trouble getting on to St. Johns Avenue currently. The proposed plan will potentially triple the 100 parking spaces currently at the Commander.

District 14 Councilman Jim Love said he would take those concerns to Nelson Caparas, the city’s traffic engineer, to evaluate what might be done with traffic along that portion of St. Johns Avenue, a state road.

“RAP appreciates that Chance has been responsive to our concerns/previous discussions particularly around the site design,” said Nancy Powell, Riverside Avondale Preservation Zoning Committee chair. “We are supportive of the new site design that brings the townhomes along St. Johns to shield the garage structure, and the carriage houses that also front St. Johns. The current design is more street-friendly and a hallmark of historic neighborhoods, and complies with the Overlay.”

Powell said there are a few outstanding issues not yet resolved, including traffic flow and pedestrian safety, underground utilities, privacy screening between parking for the Commander Tower and the residents on DuPont Circle, and public space standards. “We are hopeful many/most will be resolved prior to the hearings,” she said.

The PUD 2016-561, filed July 13, 2016, is currently planned for hearings as follows:

  • Planning Commission, Thursday, Sept. 22, 1 p.m.
  • City Council, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 5 p.m.
  • Land Use and Zoning, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 5 p.m.
  • If there are no deferments, City Council will vote on the bills Tuesday, Oct. 11, 5 p.m.

For more information on the project, visit commander-rezoning.com.


By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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