Commander 3.0 one step closer to project approval

Commander 3.0 one step closer to project approval
Street view rendering of proposed townhomes along St. John’s Avenue (By Davis Architects)

The first of three required approvals have put Chance Partners another step closer to a $42 million redevelopment of St. Johns Village and renovation of the Commander Tower Apartments at 3946-4000 St. Johns Ave.

The Planning Commission unanimously approved two ordinances (2016-560 and 2016-561) Sept. 22, upon the recommendation of the City of Jacksonville’s Planning and Development Department, which would permit Chance Partners to raze the 30-year-old retail building along Fishweir Creek and build new apartments.

Both ordinances are required to give the project the green light. According to the Planning Department staff report, 2016-560 amends 3.05 acres from Community/General Commercial to High Density Residential and 0.25 acres to Conservation. The other bill, 2016-561, seeks to rezone the entire 5.86-acre property from the 2013 approved Planned Unit Development to a new PUD for an infill multi-family development project.

The Planning Commission approved the applications (filed under Chance Jacksonville Owner LLC) with a minor adjustment, allowing for a maximum of 140 new living units instead of 136, as described in the application. This is in addition to the current 90 units that comprise the present Commander Apartment building.

City Council held a public hearing Sept. 27 at which no one spoke against the proposed PUD. The ordinances are scheduled to be heard by Land Use and Zoning Committee on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 5 p.m., pending any deferrals, and will be voted upon by City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at 5 p.m., in Council Chambers at City Hall.

At both the Planning Commission and City Council, Riverside Avondale Preservation Board Chair Keith Holt spoke in favor of the multi-family residential project, citing several successful meetings with developers Judd Bobilin and Jeff Rosen.

As Holt noted in his comments before the Planning Commission, much of the opposition from surrounding property owners has to do with a concern about an increase in traffic on St. Johns Avenue from the proposed development.

“We’ve been working on this project with Chance Partners and have gone through eight different meetings. We hashed out things, we all gave a little, we all got a little. The developers have been very responsive to neighbor and RAP feedback and requests, and they’ve also been very transparent,” said Holt. “This project has been vetted throughout the neighborhood. None of the comments or criticisms were related to the project per se. It was things outside of the developers’ purview, specifically around traffic through that section on St. Johns Avenue. We will be working with Councilman Love to address this with FDOT.”

Traffic impact projected as ‘zero net new trips’

The staff report indicated a transportation analysis determined that “the proposed amendment has the potential to result in no increase of new daily external trips…based upon the comparison of what potentially could be built on that site…versus the maximum development potential.” The report’s impact assessment noted there would be zero new net daily trips generated by potential tenants of the new development.

Residents from nearby the Arden neighborhood disagree. In prior community meetings some have said the analysis doesn’t make sense as it compares two “potential” outcomes instead of using existing traffic volume as one of the comparative standards of measure.

However, according to the Planning Department’s report, the projected traffic is expected to be at 0.62 of volume demand to capacity ratio (V/C), where 1.0 indicates a roadway is operating at capacity. This segment of St. Johns Avenue can expect slightly over 9,600 vehicular trips, about six-tenths of the maximum daily capacity of 15,600.

Avondale resident and urban planner Thad Crowe explained projects such as this one are evaluated on the basis of approved versus proposed impacts, according to state-mandated road concurrency rules. Road concurrency is the instance of one physical road bearing two or more different designations, such as St. Johns Avenue also known as State Route 211.

“The project is ‘vested’ in terms of road concurrency for the approved [2013] PUD, meaning the City has accepted projected traffic from this development (even if the project was not developed),” said Crowe. “So when a new PUD is adopted, they only have to procure additional road capacity for the increase in trips.”

Because the 2013 PUD was approved for nearly nine percent more units in the development, the traffic analysis deemed Chance Partners’ PUD at 20 fewer units than the prior PUD would not increase daily traffic trips, and thus not be obligated to work with state and city transportation agencies to make infrastructure improvements, such as turning lanes. However, as Holt noted, RAP and Councilman Love will meet with FDOT to determine what improvements can be made to that stretch of St. Johns Avenue between Woodmere Street and Greenwood Avenue.

The property owners have requested the site be designated a Brownfield Area, indicating that prior uses as a fueling station, hardware store, extermination business and dry cleaner have resulted in the presence of various contaminants in the soil including tetrachloroethylene, dieldrin, naphthalene, arsenic, and benzopyrene. Designation as a Brownfield Area will require Chance Partners to rehabilitate and redevelop the site according to a plan to be reviewed and approved by the Department of Environmental Protection before construction of the new buildings.

“It may include some excavation and some capping but they will have to resolve the existing contamination on the site,” said T.R. Hainline, attorney for property owners Chance Partners.

Since the property is located within the “Commercial Character Area” of the Riverside/Avondale Zoning Overlay, the project must concur with the historic development and established character of the area. The application indicates this will be achieved through the location of uses – such as the parking garage – incorporation of residential setbacks, buffers and pedestrian walkways.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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