City Council approves controversial restaurant, 13-5

City Council approves controversial restaurant, 13-5

With just one more hurdle to overcome, The Roost, a restaurant proposed for development in a Riverside neighborhood, may become the next go-to place for dinner.

On March 17 the Planned Unit Development (PUD) 2016-55 received unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, which removed certain conditions made by the Planning and Development Department in its staff report.

In early May, after nearly 14 hours of hearings over two days, the Land Use and Zoning Committee (LUZ) returned some of those conditions before giving property owner Anthony Saleeba and developers Ted Stein and J.C. Demetree a 5 to 2 vote of approval and sending it on to City Council. Only District 14 Councilman Jim Love, in whose district the property is located, and District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer voted against the PUD.

City Council approved the PUD on May 24, in a 13 to 5 vote, with Love, Boyer, John Crescimbeni, Bill Gulliford and Joyce Morgan opposing the bill. Morgan had previously voted for the bill as a member of LUZ.

“We are ecstatic that in all four steps of the process the city agreed with our vision for the building. It has been great today having neighbors reach out to express their excitement to finally have something in that run down building,” said developer Ted Stein. “We cannot wait to get this project moving forward and bring the neighborhood a café that makes them proud.”

But despite approval by all three quasi-judicial bodies, The Roost still is not a done deal. It may have to go before the Circuit Court to plead its case. The opponents, Kevin Pettway, who lives across the street, and Positive Riverside Optimized Urban Development (PROUD) said they planned to file a suit with the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in the near future.

“Councilman Love and Councilwoman Boyer gave well-reasoned and substantive arguments against, for which we thank them both, while supporters of the bill remained uncomfortably silent,” said Pettway. “In the end, we have always felt that our best chance to defeat this bill lay not in the political arena, but in the law, where we hope our case will be heard without political bias, and where we are strongest. We are absolutely committed to protecting all of Jacksonville’s historical communities by overturning this destructive bill.”

Pettway’s next-door neighbor, Roxanne Henkle, was also appreciative of the minority of Council members who voted against the bill.

“I am very heartened and grateful for the City Council members who voted against this flawed bill. This small group’s dissenting vote against this development is encouraging, because this small number of Council members reviewed the difficult planning issues to make sound and smart development decisions. They showed courage in voting against this PUD that was rife with flaws, but heavy on political influence,” said Henkle. “I am encouraged and appreciative that we have City Council members who did look at the evidence and weighed in wisely on a choice that would have long-term consequences to historic overlays in other portions of our fair city of Jacksonville.”

Ultimate loophole: PUDs?

Much controversy has surrounded the proposed 150-seat restaurant since Stein and Demetree unveiled their plan in November 2015 to Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) and nearby residents, some of whom feel the PUD is a blatant disregard of zoning codes and the Riverside Avondale Overlay, which is intended to protect Residential Character Areas – where the predominant uses are residences – within historic districts.

“RAP is disappointed that the City Council decision allows isolated zoning with this PUD, without regard to the underlying zoning,” said Nancy Powell, RAP board member and zoning committee chair. “This undercuts the stability provided by the 2008 Zoning Overlay and ignores key policies and operative provisions of the 2030 Comprehensive Plan, which in turn sets a bad precedent and threatens the integrity of zoning laws and land use provisions not just in Riverside, but across Jacksonville.”

During each hearing for Bill 2016-55, proponents claimed The Roost will preserve a historic building, and end blight in that block of Oak Street, while opponents, including nearby residents, stressed the PUD is a precedent-setting weakening of zoning protections for historic districts such as Riverside, Avondale, San Marco and Springfield.

The notion that perhaps the Riverside Avondale Overlay should be changed to address such perceived weaknesses was raised at the second session of the special LUZ hearing by District 8 Councilwoman Katrina Brown, who noted she had not seen anything in the Riverside Avondale Overly which would exclude a PUD.

“Based on having an Overlay, has the neighborhood opposed any other PUDs or would this be the first opposed by the neighbors?” she asked during the May 9 LUZ special hearing.

In the hearing, William Killingsworth, director of the Planning and Development Department, stated that 11 PUDs had been approved since the Riverside Avondale Overlay was enacted in 2008, however, a city spokesperson later said that was an error. Actually 10 PUD rezonings have been approved, among them new development of the Black Sheep Restaurant in 2010, Five Points Village in 2012, and Pinegrove Deli’s expansion in 2015. The other seven were for CRO (commercial/residential/office) uses: Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Black Hive Tattoo, townhomes on Ernest Street, offices on Riverside Avenue, the John Gorrie Condominium, a parking lot behind the Blind Rabbit restaurant on King Street, and the mixed-use St. Johns Village, which has not been developed.

“Will the Overlay be revised to exclude any future PUDs to prevent any changes or will it still be an open opportunity for another applicant?” asked Brown.

Brown’s questions spurred other council members to consider whether there were holes in the Overlay. Among them was Crescimbeni, an At-Large Councilman who is not a member of LUZ.

“The Overlay needs to be revisited,” said Crescimbeni. “This exercise has certainly pointed out what I see is a glaring omission of what was intended that can be easily circumvented.”

Amendments to zoning code proposed

Following the LUZ committee’s approval of The Roost, there was an almost immediate filing of three ordinances, which would amend Municipal Code Chapter 656 (Zoning Code) to strengthen zoning laws in historic districts.

On May 18, District 14 Councilman Jim Love filed ordinance 2016-366 to “specify applicability of the Riverside/Avondale Overlay to all zoning districts, including planned unit development districts.”

“We need to add teeth to the Overlay regarding PUDs,” said Love. “The Roost is the first PUD we didn’t manage to find a compromise. That’s one reason I didn’t vote for it.”

The proposed ordinance to amend the city’s zoning code includes requirements that future PUDs submitted in Riverside and Avondale as rezoning applications shall be mixed-use, contain a residential component of at least 50 percent of the square footage and reside on at least two acres of contiguous land. The amendment would apply to all rezoning applications submitted on or after July 12, 2016.

Also on May 18, Boyer submitted ordinance 2016-368 to address off-street parking, loading, and the use of parking credits, which were part of the controversy over the proposed restaurant. The issue with The Roost dealt with parking credits based on the historic use of the building as a dry cleaning operation, which required far less parking spaces than would a 150-seat restaurant, according to testimony by Jack Shad, an expert witness on behalf of PROUD.

Shad stated zoning codes indicated the former Deluxe Cleaning operation was classified as light industrial, which overstates the parking credit. “It appears they are short by 13 spaces and all parking should be onsite,” said Shad at the LUZ special hearing on May 4.

In response, Steve Diebenow, attorney representing Saleeba and the developers, stated parking regulations are not laid out in the Overlay, but are spelled out in Part 6 of the Zoning Code. Shad’s parking calculations include credits for a prior use of the building, which ceased long ago, according to Diebenow.

Boyer’s bill on parking credits is intended to clear up the ambiguities in the Zoning and Code and the Riverside Avondale Overlay. A working draft of the bill indicates parking credits will not be allowed for spaces that are not provided during existing use of a building but are needed for a repurposed use, such as a dry cleaning operation versus a restaurant.

Riverside Avondale Preservation, along with some residents who were involved with creating the Overlay nearly 10 years ago, is involved in the changes to code.

“We look forward to working with Councilman Love on changes to the overlay that will help clarify development expectations in the neighborhood, particularly as it relates to the use of planned unit developments (PUDs),” said Adrienne Burke, RAP executive director.

“RAP will continue to actively advocate for appropriate scale and intensity with the goal of achieving a vibrant, livable community for residents, businesses and property owners,” said Powell. “We have always felt that The Roost is a good concept in the wrong location, but could benefit all by instead locating in a properly zoned commercial district.”

Seeking to protect San Marco in a similar manner, Boyer also filed ordinance 2016-367 on May 18, to support San Marco by Design, a neighborhood action plan developed by the San Marco Preservation Society to provide guidance to developers and the city’s Planning and Development Department. Boyer’s bill states “no PUD rezoning shall be allowed that waives or alters any development standard established in the Overlay.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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