Ortega residents seek to prevent lot subdivisions to preserve neighborhood fabric

Ortega residents seek to prevent lot subdivisions to preserve neighborhood fabric
One-story home at 3951 Baltic Street, built in 1947

When renowned architect Henry Klutho first platted Ortega in 1909, he most likely didn’t dream its residents would want to alter his design 110 years later. Now there are some in the community who are seeking waivers to divide lots, raze existing houses and build multiple new ones on the smaller lots. 

According to information submitted to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, the Old Ortega Historic District is an approximately 450-acre, primarily residential neighborhood consisting mainly of one-story and two-story single-family dwellings constructed between 1909 and 1953. 

While Klutho may not be turning over in his grave over the latest development, some Ortega residents are not happy with efforts to change the eclectic nature of the historic community’s landscape and architecture. Around 100 people signed a petition against the waivers, and several attended the March 20 meeting of the City Council’s Land Use and Zoning Committee to speak against two specific applications.

New property owners at 3951 Baltic Street and 2841 Doric Avenue, which are zoned RLD-90 [residential low density 90-foot frontage], sought to reduce minimum road frontage from 72 feet to 50 feet on Baltic and from 72 feet to 62.5 feet on Doric in order to divide the lots. Although the City of Jacksonville’s Planning and Development Department staff had approved the waiver requests, when it came time for LUZ to hear the applications, there was resistance from Ortega residents and from members of LUZ.

One-story home at 2841 Doric Avenue, built in 1921
One-story home at 2841 Doric Avenue, built in 1921

“This sounds like a re-zoning. That’s a bad policy. Either re-zone it to RLD-30, -40, -50 or whatever, but don’t play fast and loose with zoning rules,” said Danny Becton, LUZ member, to which Chief of Current Planning Folks Huxford responded, “We could have gone either way but since it’s RLD-90, instead of sprinkling it with spot zones, we thought it best to go through the waiver/deviation route.” Becton replied, “It’s a slippery slope both ways. We [LUZ] haven’t seen a waiver we’ve refused here.” 

The discussion was augmented by the comments during the public hearing when eight people spoke against the waivers and companion administrative deviations seeking reductions in square footage as well as lot widths, some citing concern about clearcutting the properties and removing old trees, others concerned about increased traffic along Baltic Street. 

During the hearing, District 14 Councilman Jim Love, who is not currently serving on LUZ, but represents Ortega, asked the representative for the Baltic Street property if there were any reasons they couldn’t just build one home. The spokesperson, Cynthia Trimmer, an attorney with Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow, said there was an economical difficulty to limit the project to one building and it would be more practical to build two.

“This is such a historic neighborhood and people come to it expecting housing to stay much the same,” said Love. “The economic difficulty was brought upon themselves by splitting the lot.”

Becton agreed, stating, “If the property owner causes the problem, this is a violation of what a waiver should do at a minimum. I will not support any bill like this that comes before the Council. If it’s a rezoning, rezone it.”

LUZ members voted unanimously to deny both the waiver and the administrative deviation for the Baltic Street property, which prompted the representative for the Doric Avenue lot to request a deferral of the hearing. The request was denied so, rather than risk denials of the waiver and administrative deviation, the representative chose to withdraw both applications.

While pleased with the outcomes, some Ortega residents are still fearful of future efforts to subdivide lots and are considering ways to protect the historic nature of the community.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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