Homeowner files request to subdivide historic St. Nicholas property

Homeowner files request to subdivide historic St. Nicholas property
Rendering of Mitchell Legler’s plan for building additional homes at 1108 Palmer Terrace. The home in the center is the historic McIver House, painted white. For more renderings, visit residentnews.net.

Orange zoning signs line the fence in front of the historic McIver House at 1108 Palmer Terrace, as owner Mitchell W. Legler requests two zoning waivers from the city’s Land Use and Zoning Committee. Legler hopes to subdivide his nearly three-acre property into five home sites. The signs cropped up during the second week of June. At press time last month, LUZ had not yet scheduled a public hearing to discuss the waivers.

Legler, who has lived at the address for 36 years, said his property was listed on the real estate market for a year with no takers. “I tried to sell it, but there is not much of a market for large old estates,” said Legler, noting it is very expensive to maintain a property the size of the McIver estate. “We were advised that the market today favors smaller properties. This will create a real opportunity for five families to enjoy the beautiful St. Johns River with deep water dockage and terrific views of downtown,” he said.

The McIver house, which Legler said he has deliberately not listed on the National Register, is featured in Jacksonville Historian Wayne Wood’s book, “Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage, Landmarks for the Future.” It was first built in 1916 and later enlarged to double its size in 1930, said Legler. (This differs from Wood’s book which lists the date the house was built at 1930 with the addition constructed in 1937.)

According to Wood’s book, the property was part of a Spanish land grant awarded to Francis Bagley. When he died, the land passed to his widow, Anna Hogans. In 1839 the property was divided into five 80- to 90-acre lots and given to Hogans’ five children, one of whom was Eliza Miller. Five grandchildren of Eliza and her husband, David Palmer, were members of the Holmes family and inherited Lot #2 of the original grant. The addition made to the original riverfront house came by way of renowned Jacksonville urologist Dr. Robert McIver and his wife, Ida Holmes McIver, who was the great, great granddaughter of Anna Hogans, said Legler. Prior to Legler’s purchase of the property from Ida McIver in 1980, the property had only transferred through inheritance, he said.

“The house itself is a beautiful part of St. Nicholas, and my objective is to preserve the main house,” Legler said. “It’s an old, honored neighborhood, and there is a lot of good in the old. My intent is to incorporate all the good of the old structure with the new concepts and do it harmoniously with a new development.”

When Legler first consulted with architects and engineers, he was told he could fit a cul- de-sac with 10 house lots – five of which would be riverfront lots – onto his nearly three-acre estate as a way “to maximize its value” but chose to reject the idea.

“This would not have been consistent with the neighborhood,” he said. “I wanted to preserve the historical house so I looked to find a way to develop it in a manner that would enhance the community instead of detracting from it.”

In the city’s property records, the riverfront estate is actually three 125-foot by approximately 330-foot parcels, with the historic house residing on the middle parcel. Legler’s plan is to subdivide the two on either side of the main house so that each will have a riverfront lot connected to Palmer Terrace by a 20-foot-wide driveway.

On the west side of the historic house, a 90-foot by 190-foot lot will border the street with a 20-foot-wide driveway running alongside it toward the river. The western riverfront lot behind it will be a large, trapezoid-shaped lot 110 feet wide, 198 feet long on one side and 142 feet long on the other with 122 feet of river frontage.

One the eastern side of the historic house will be a 90-foot by 120-foot front lot with a 20-foot-wide driveway alongside. The trapezoid-shaped riverfront lot behind it will measure 110 feet wide, 152 feet long on one side and 94 feet on the side bordering Palmer Terrace Park.

Each house will reside on approximately half an acre, Legler said.

Legler said the back lots are big enough and the front lots have enough frontage on Palmer Terrace so that the project does not require rezoning. “All five lots will meet zoning requirements for the area,” he said, noting a waiver is required because with driveways only 20 feet, the two back lots do not have enough direct road frontage specified for the area.

Legler plans that four “Charleston Low Country Estate homes” will be built on the lots adjacent to the McIver house, each ranging in size from 4,000 to 5,000 square feet. “My intent is to restrict them so that all the views are protected. No opaque fences will be allowed. The back will have the look of an open park,” he said. “Legally I can control the architecture and the openness of the area. I hate fences that cut off people’s views. I will have it carefully restricted so (future) owners cannot build something on the riverside and block the view of everybody else.

“My intent is for all the houses to have access to the river and to build a community dock,” he continued. “It is better to have one pier going out for all the people to put their boats on,” he said, adding a benefit to the location is the depth of the river near his shoreline. “It’s eight feet deep at low tide. You could take an aircraft carrier from my dock to China without having to stop,” he said.

In subdividing the property, Legler plans to preserve the 6,500-square-foot McIver House while tearing down an adjacent detached garage, which was built in 1940, and a detached artist’s studio, built in 1952, which was formerly used by McIver’s son, John, a well-known painter who currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina. He also plans to convert the back porch attached to the historic house, which faces on the street side, into a garage once the property is subdivided.

Legler said he has no immediate plans to move from the McIver house and will continue to live in it until someone “offers the right amount” for it. His daughter, Dorothy Fasbinder, and her family live down the street on Palmer Terrace.

Although he did not say so explicitly, Legler indicated his Palmer Terrace neighbors are not happy with his plans. “People are afraid of the unknown. People get upset, but this is actually a very nice solution as opposed to a few old deteriorating buildings,” he said. “There is always resistance to change in the world. This change will be a benefit to the entire area. I think it is going to be beautiful. When people understand what’s going on, they will be in favor of it.”

Click to view property layout and rendering.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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