Proposed Zoning Overlay amendment creates lively discussion

One day prior to a public hearing at the City of Jacksonville Land Use and Zone (LUZ) Committee meeting Oct. 18, the bill proposed by District 14 Councilman Jim Love to amend the Riverside Avondale Zoning Overlay of the Ordinance Code sparked fierce debate online.

Social media and online news sites shared personal pros and cons for a bill that seeks to set restrictions on restaurants – such as seat capacity, hours and outside service – in residential character areas where the parcel was previously zoned commercial. The legislation would not put any restrictions on existing restaurants in residential areas or future restaurants in commercial areas, such as 5 Points, the Park and King retail corridor or the Shoppes of Avondale.

During the LUZ public hearing, two spoke in opposition to the bill. Local attorney J. Brent Allen, who also owns investment properties in Avondale, Ortega and Venetia, said the bill would create a lot of red tape and stifle businesses in the area.

“To create a strong city, with a strong core, you need to have things for people to do. The Avondale area is an integral part of creating a strong core for Jacksonville,” said Allen. “This bill does the complete opposite in strengthening the core. In this ordinance, all new restaurants’ hours will be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. What restaurant in their right mind will open up if they have to shut their doors at 8 p.m.?”

Allen also noted the portion of the bill which indicated restaurants would be responsible for controlling the effects of light from automobile headlights or other sources. “It’s laughable that the restaurant has to control the effects of light from automobiles,” he said, while disagreeing with the restrictions against ordering food to-go and the limitation on seating. “Seating of 60 is a little draconian.”

The Resident first reported on the bill in its June 2016 issue, after Bill 2016-366 was introduced to City Council May 24. The bill, which included a two-acre minimum for new Planned Unit Developments and which must contain a residential component, was subsequently withdrawn. Nearly three months of review and rewriting followed before 2016-580 was introduced Aug. 23, as noted in the September issue of The Resident.

Restaurants at heart of the matter

The most contentious portions of 2016-580, at least according to online comments, focus on new restaurants in Historical Residential Character Areas, which would be limited to public hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with overall operating hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. All parking would need to be provided for on-site, and the restaurant would be responsible for controlling the effects of lights from automobiles or other sources. Seating would not be able to exceed a capacity of 60; service would be on-premises only; drive-thru restaurants would be prohibited; and there would be no amplified live music, and no entertainment, waiting areas or service of food or alcohol outside the restaurant.

Following the online hue and cry, however, Love removed from the bill the section which dealt with restaurant uses in character areas, including the limitations for hours of operation, however the revision does continue to limit seating capacity at 60, and requires consumption of food on premises only.

The Oct. 27 revision will put some teeth into the Overlay regarding actions by City Council, as well as the Planning and Development Department and the “Local Planning Agency,” when approving a land use or zoning application in the Riverside/Avondale Zoning Overlay District, including rezoning to Planned Unit Development.

The bill seeks approvals only if substantial competent evidence is found that the application meets applicable criteria that, in general, will not have a detrimental impact on or alter the character of a Character Area corridor or on a contributing structure in the Riverside Avondale historic district.

The Riverside Avondale Preservation Zoning Committee issued a statement about the bill in response to the outcry:

“This legislation is intended to help further clarify what commercial uses are compatible in the historic residential character areas. The Riverside Avondale Zoning Overlay, passed in 2008 by a unanimous vote by the City Council, recognized that the city’s overall zoning code was not always in alignment with the needs of the historic district.

“For example, Overlay parking requirements reflect that suburban parking requirements were not feasible or desirable, since this area was developed prior to the widespread use of the automobile. As a result, certain areas allow substantial reduction in the number of spaces required. In addition, the Overlay seeks to balance the needs of existing residential properties with office and commercial development, so the Overlay has five different Character Area standards. Overall the character areas are meant to encourage commercial development in the commercial areas, and protect residential quality of life in the historic residential areas.”

Public meetings on the bill

Riverside Avondale Preservation will hold a community meeting Wednesday, Nov. 2, 6-8 p.m., at The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, 1100 Stockton St., to solicit feedback about the proposed bill. Interested parties are urged to check RAP’s Facebook page for updates.

If you cannot make the meeting, submit comments, questions or feedback to [email protected]

A public hearing is currently scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 5 p.m. before Land Use and Zoning, and for Thursday, Nov. 17, at 1 p.m., before the Planning Commission. The meetings are held in Council Chambers at City Hall. Dates are subject to change.

By Kate A. Hallock

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