Developer withdraws from multi-family project on King Street

Developer withdraws from multi-family project on King Street
Aerial view of the properties which surround the CenterState Bank property on King Street.

Less than a month after approximately four dozen nearby property owners had gathered at Riverside Baptist Church Nov. 29 to learn about redevelopment plans for a site that Riverside Avondale Preservation calls “the heart of the Riverside Avondale historic district,” the developer announced to RAP it would withdraw from the project. 

J.B. Ritz, a Jacksonville Beach developer, was planning to file an application for a planned unit development (PUD) zoning designation to redevelop the 3-acre property where CenterState Bank is located on King Street. Slightly more than half the property is zoned Commercial Office (CO) and the remainder as Commercial Community General (CCG-1).

On Dec. 21, RAP released a statement that J.B. Ritz representatives had informed the preservation group it had decided to withdraw plans for the proposed 118-unit, multi-family mixed-use project.

“We respect that the bank and the developer were open to feedback as they worked towards seeing if they could make a project work in this location,” said Nancy Powell, chair of RAP’s board of directors. “Scott [Gay] and the J.B. Ritz team have been very cooperative and professional throughout the process, and we thank them for engaging RAP and the community to listen and learn.”

J.B. Ritz’s proposed mixed-used development would have consisted of a three- to four-story residential structure with 118 one- and two-bedroom apartments; a 190-space three-story parking garage; a clubhouse, and a 2,500-square-foot space for some type of retail. Additionally, the plans included a new, smaller bank building with drive-thru lanes and 20 parking spaces on the corner of King and Lydia Streets, and a dog park on the corner of Lydia Street and Frederica Place. There were also 16 surface parking spaces planned between the dog park and the bank.

More than 70 people had attended the November meeting, where primary concerns centered around mass (too many units), scale (building height) and lack of retail on the King Street side. “I want to see more retail. No one expects to see an apartment complex in the middle of a business district,” said David Joudi, owner of Riverside Liquors on King Street.

After the meeting, RAP’s Zoning Committee issued a statement, indicating the project as presented did not comply with the Riverside-Avondale Zoning Overlay. “It is also not compatible with the commercial/storefront character on King St. and the residential character on Frederica St. This compatibility is required by the City’s historic preservation ordinance and guidelines. These guidelines address issues of scale, massing and design and require projects to be compatible with the streetscape and neighboring structures,” read the statement.  

According to historic preservation guidelines developed in 1992 for new construction and renovations within the Historic District, since most buildings, with the exception of bungalows and some commercial buildings, are 2 to 2.5 stories high, the height of new construction should be compatible with surrounding historic buildings. The tallest structures in the area immediately adjacent to CenterState Bank’s property include Riverside Baptist Church, Walgreens and the Whiteway Building – none of which are higher than 2.5 stories.

“As a homeowner living down the street from the proposed development, I am greatly concerned that the apartment complex would greatly increase traffic congestion, noise/disruption, and overall crime levels in our neighborhood and the surrounding area,” said Lindsay Jackson. “I feel that a large-scale apartment complex is completely out of keeping with this quaint historic district and the small businesses adjacent to the commercially-zoned property.”

Eric Davidson, a Frederica Place homeowner, was also not impressed with the plan, stating he would like to see more commercial/retail and less residential. “I do not like the idea of people on the third floor of the building looking down in to my home across the street,” he said, also noting the planned amenities will be great for the renters but will have no value for the neighborhood.

“Usually, when a developer comes to showcase a new project to members of the community, they address aspects that would show it was a benefit to the surrounding area. These are things like placemaking, quality of life enhancements, road enhancements, ‘fitting in’ with the surrounding area, and economic factors. From what we saw, the only benefits that were addressed were for the developer, and whatever tenants they were proposing to be living in the area,” Davidson said in a subsequent statement.

Three weeks after the public meeting, J.B. Ritz representative Tim Lambert and Scott Gay met with RAP to indicate they would withdraw from the project.

“There are no hard feelings. We wanted to do something the community would welcome and also meets our criteria for success. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be possible without relief from the Overlay height restrictions allowing the density we need,” said Lambert. 

Gay added, “We were working collaboratively with RAP, CenterState Bank and the community, and we appreciate everyone’s participation and input. We have many projects in other areas that we will turn our attention to, but if something comes up in the future, we’d like to keep the door open.”

RAP leadership believes there is opportunity for an appropriately-scaled, well-designed mixed-use project on the site that would take into consideration the community needs “RAP’s mission is to preserve the historic fabric of our unique neighborhood, and one of our core principles is to advocate for balance and compatible scale which fit and compliment the neighborhood. We will continue to work with CenterState Bank and any future developer on projects that will fit and thrive in this community,” said Warren Jones, executive director.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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