Commander redevelopment project in limbo

Commander redevelopment project in limbo

One year ago it appeared that a lavish multi-million dollar residential and commercial project would become a reality at the edge of Fishweir Creek in Avondale. Envisioned for several years, the project underwent months of public scrutiny before ultimately receiving city permits to proceed.

And yet a year later nothing has happened.

An aging apartment building, The Commander Tower Apartments, remains just as it has for decades, and a few of the existing commercial tenants – at one point believing they may have only weeks to vacate – are still there as well.

So why is the project, proposed by Michael Balanky, president and CEO of Chase Properties, still in limbo?

Commander_01“Unfortunately it appears that the family that owns the property is still up in the air about what to do,” Balanky said in an email. “I have been unsuccessful in my overtures to purchase the property and it appears there is no consensus among the partners.”

In January 2014 the city Planning and Development Commission approved a land use zoning change after hearing several hours of testimony about the project called St. Johns Village at 3946-4000 St. Johns Ave.

The vote came after months of public and private meetings between Balanky, elected officials and nearby residents concerned about the proposed project’s height, its impact on St. Johns Avenue traffic and whether it fit into proportionately into the surrounding community.

But finally the approval came, with Riverside Avondale Preservation, the Fishweir Neighborhood Association and the Arden Group, homeowners on a few streets that are adjacent to the project, all agreeing to the project.

Receiving Planning Commission approval was a project with three buildings and covering about 280,000 square feet. In the buildings would be a total of 260 one-, two- or three-bedroom apartments along with about 10,000 square feet in commercial space. Balanky also agreed to put up a barrier wall to block the facility from nearby homes and to make improvements on St. Johns Avenue to provide some traffic relief.

Ultimately, however, the property owners – members of the same family living in New Jersey and California – felt it would be too expensive to tear down the existing structures and build the proposed St. Johns Village, said Councilman Jim Love, who sat in on many of the public meetings on the project.

“They are now looking at renovations at some point,” Love said. “There’s no timeline on when that will be.”

Balanky referred questions to Michael Mochary, son of the property owner Mary Mochary. He passed the inquiry along to a Miami Beach property management firm, whose spokesperson said there was no update on the Commander’s status.

Some nearby Commander residents say they prefer the property remain unchanged anyway.

“The last thing I want is for hundreds of apartments to be built on that site. I would prefer that they build condominiums or just leave it as is,” said Kyle Billy, a neighborhood resident.

But Balanky said he’s not giving up on the project.

“I welcome the opportunity to see it through fruition if and when they decide to move forward,” he said.

Just when that will be remains uncertain.

“I would expect something to happen in the near future based on the deteriorating condition of the property,” Balanky said, “but who knows. It is very unfortunate as it is a trophy property and I know it is upsetting to the neighbors to see it languish.”

By Greg Walsh
Resident Community News

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