Development review board grants The District design authority

Development review board grants The District design authority

The Downtown Development Review Board (DDRB) broke new ground Aug. 25 when it unanimously granted conceptual approval – with one abstention – for The District – Life Well Lived during a meeting at City Hall. Board member Bill Schilling abstained due to a conflict of interest.

In what may be an example of unprecedented faith in Elements Development LLC, a company owned by San Marco developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz, the DDRB agreed to relinquish its authority in approving site plans and the architecture of each individual structure to be built on the 33-acre site, which is adjacent to the Duval County Public School administration building.

Downtown Investment Authority Development Coordinator Jim Klement recommended the board grant the developers this kind of flexibility saying the plan is a “single-phase massive development project,” and the “intent is to be able to get specific measurable regulatory guidelines that don’t require an individual building to come back each time unless they step outside those measurable guidelines.”

In short, it was his recommendation Rummell and Munz would thereby not be required to bring specific designs back to the board for approval after DDRB signs off on the final guidelines. “We may never see them again,” Klement said.

Elements Development LLC has a contract to buy the former Jacksonville Energy Authority Southside Generating Station site for more than $17 million, and expects to close by the end of December, said JEA spokesperson Gerri Boyce. JEA has extended the due diligence period to Nov. 30, 2016, Boyce said.

A catalyst site

The District master plan calls for approximately 1,100 residential units, retail establishments that wrap around the ground floor of most structures, and parking garages incorporated within the lower and mid-levels of most buildings. Also included in the project are a hotel, a marina, and 45 to 65 two-story townhouses, each with its own garage.

“We view this an opportunity to build a catalyst site, a catalyst project,” said Munz, adding his development group listened and took to heart the comments and feedback of the board and its staff during a workshop last spring and have incorporated much of their recommendations into its master plan.

“Having that workshop for a project of this magnitude was a very healthy thing to go through,” he said, noting “view corridors,” more attention to the riverfront and both sides of the property and the fact the project no longer has a “back section,” came directly from feedback gleaned from the workshop.

Other goals for the project are to reinforce Jacksonville’s Downtown, increase rental and owner-occupied housing, simplify the approval process, improve walkability and bike-ability, provide connectivity from The District to the “existing context” of the Southbank and the city, to establish a waterfront framework and to promote a design for overall healthy living, said Kent Knight, Elements project planner and architect.

“We are encouraging a variety of architectural styles,” he said. “We don’t see The District as one homogeneous architectural style, but we want to invite and encourage variety.”

The developers plan to ensure their project has “strong pedestrian streets,” river views from the interior of the site through four “dedicated view corridors,” buildings that step up in height as they go away from the river, and park space in the foreground that will allow both active and passive recreational uses, Knight said. 

Their concept is to “create a skyline through various heights and tower massings,” he said, noting a variety of roof-scape designs made of different materials as well as rooftop landscaping and outdoor amenities on the residential buildings would assist in making the skyline more attractive.

The project intends to encourage diversity and provide various types of housing in order to attract residents of different generations, Knight said.

Board member Joseph Loretta requested the board take a longer period of time than usual to evaluate the final guidelines. He also expressed a need to have more explanation and detail, particularly in the parking standards, before the board grants final approval. “When it comes to the final, we will not be able to evaluate it in one fell swoop,” he said, noting parking standards and materials need to be very specific because The District’s streets will be public.

“Conceptually this is just magnificent, and we’re all very excited about this project,” said Board member Carol Worsham. “It’s one of the greatest things to happen in downtown Jacksonville in years so we’re all very supportive. I commend, of course, the design, and the architecture is fabulous. My question is more regulatory. When we get to the final, are you developing design guidelines for your developers and your folks that are going to be building your project? Is that what we are going to be approving when you come back to the final?” she asked, adding perhaps the board should review again the specifics dealing with the riverfront restaurants, marina and other amenities that are public and close to the Riverwalk.

Munz, however, ultimately convinced the board not to differentiate that area from the rest of the project. He promised to quickly return before the board with a solid regulating plan that will include more specificity.

“It is our intent in today’s presentation to show you what our guidelines are going to be. So it is our intent at final to have you sign off on those guidelines. We heard some good feedback today. With this project we need you to keep in mind that when we’re talking to a hotel developer or office developer or apartment (developer) the flexibility you are providing us and that we are going to provide them is critical,” said Munz.

“So at the final there will be directions like we are giving you today and we can drill down and give you a few more types of treatments and various things,” he continued. “But I want to make sure we’re all in agreement today and we can continue to keep in mind the flexibility that we need to be able to take this to market.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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