New plans for Commander, St. Johns Village submitted

New plans for Commander, St. Johns Village submitted
The new plan for the former St. Johns Village shopping center calls for total residential, no retail, with upgrades to the Commander Apartments. (Rendering by Davis Architects)

The new owner of the Commander Apartments and St. Johns Village submitted a planned unit development (PUD) and a land use change application to the City of Jacksonville after several months of “research and analysis, as well as close work and cooperation with neighbors and Riverside Avondale Preservation,” according to a statement released by Jeff Rosen, principal/vice president at Chance Partners, LLC, of Atlanta, Georgia.

The planned development of no more than 224 apartments will be “an enhancement to the currently underutilized property,” Rosen stated. The number of units includes both the Commander, currently with 99 units, and new construction of two four-story apartment buildings and two carriage houses with two apartments in each.

Proposed plans for the Commander call for a total of 88 units, according to Rosen. “To achieve this, several units on the first and second floors will be removed to create additional space for building amenities,” he said. “Additionally, all outdoor amenities, such as the pool, will be updated and enhanced to reflect the upscale nature of the property.”

Rosen said the total apartment count will not exceed 224 among the five buildings, but the number of one-, two, and three-bedroom apartments has not been finalized.

Chance Partners purchased the 5.78-acre property in March 2016 for $5.8 million. The PUD estimates another $35 million will be put into the project. If the project receives approval from the Planning Commission, Land Use and Zoning, and City Council, the
firm expects to begin construction by the end of 2016 with completion scheduled for the first half of 2018.

In his statement, Rosen noted the new plan is less dense than the previous plan submitted three years ago by Chase Properties, which called for 260 residential units as well as 10,000

square feet of retail space. This latest plan does not include space for retail tenants.

Since the St. Johns Village parcel is currently zoned Community/General Commercial (CGC), which requires at least 20 percent commercial/retail use, Chance Partners is requesting a change to remove the commercial component.

The PUD states, in response to recent trends a multi-family development will avoid exacerbating commercial and parking pressures in Avondale, and provide new customers within walking distance to shops and businesses.

Chance Partners’ plan will create less traffic and requires less construction activity than the plan submitted by previous owners/developers, stated Rosen. The proposed PUD includes a specific listing of the differences between it, the PUD developed by Chase Properties, and provisions of the Zoning Code, including the lack of retail/commercial usage.

According to the plan layout, the apartment buildings will sit at the southwest end of the property, along Fishweir Creek, and the carriage houses will be situated along St. Johns Avenue, as will the two-level, 71-space parking deck.

RAP requests site revision

Riverside Avondale Preservation has held meetings with the property owner to review the plans and is planning a community meeting to allow for discussion about the project. Meeting details were not available as of press time.

“RAP welcomes at a high level the proposed redevelopment plans as far as the preservation/renovation of the Commander apartment building, the total number of proposed units at 224, and the type of apartments planned,” said a statement released by Nancy Powell, chair of RAP’s Zoning Committee.

However, the plan to put a two-level parking deck in front of the property does not appeal to leaders and board members at RAP.

“RAP continues to work with Chance Partners and it is our goal to achieve a better site design that makes parking a less dominant feature along St. Johns Avenue, and would add creative public space and street improvements to enhance the value to the tenant experience and the neighborhood alike,” the statement continued. “In particular, we feel that large street-facing parking structure as proposed is too large at 190 feet wide and creates a visually unattractive and unfriendly landscape. We are confident a more creative solution can and should be found.”

St. Johns Village marks the end of the Herschel Street commercial corridor, according to RAP, and helps create the transition to the more residential section of St. Johns Avenue and Avondale. While the property at 4000 St. Johns Avenue is not part of the historic district and, as such, the plans will not be presented to the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission, it is under the Riverside Avondale Overlay. “This property is literally the southern door to and from the historic district,” said Powell, on behalf of RAP.

Objections are being raised by neighbors on adjacent duPont Circle, negatively comparing at least one aspect of the previous PUD (2013-342) to the proposed PUD, which does not offer the public any access to the river.

“This doesn’t add to the neighborhood without public access,” said Nickolas Dambrose, who lives on duPont Circle. “I hope it will be more accommodating to the public.”

The prior PUD had included a public boardwalk along the rear of the Village parcel, accessible via a public pedestrian walk from St. Johns Avenue, and a kayak launch also publically accessible.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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