Property condemned, court case in flux delays Roost

Property condemned, court case in flux delays Roost
Boarded windows lend to the derelict appearance of the former Deluxe Laundry and Cleaners on Oak Street in Riverside.

It’s been four years since The Roost first attempted to settle into the Oak Street site that previously housed Deluxe Laundry and Cleaners, but the proposed 150-seat restaurant has yet to occupy the space. 

The decision about their occupancy is still up in the air, pending the outcome of a court case filed by opponents who disagreed with the Jacksonville City Council’s decision in 2016 to approve the Planned Unit Development (PUD) rezoning.

In April 2018, the First District Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in favor of a group of Riverside residents who petitioned against The Roost. The judges determined the opponents have the right to appeal City Council’s decision to allow the PUD. The case has now been returned to the Circuit Court. 

To complicate matters, the City condemned the building in February 2019, citing unsafe conditions such as a leaky and damaged roof, broken windows, mold and mildew, unfinished walls and other deterioration. 

A statement prepared by Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) said they fully support restoration of the historic building, which has been in disrepair for a number of years.

“The maintenance of property is an owner’s responsibility, and vacant buildings and blight is not anything the city, RAP or anyone else wants to see. While there is code compliance, it is usually a long and difficult process. The owner has deferred maintenance since he sold Deluxe Cleaners in 2006, which was long before the idea for a restaurant was born,” said RAP representatives, in an excerpt from the statement.  

After the City Council approved the PUD zoning in May 2016, RAP’s board of directors chose not to take additional actions; however, they are following the lawsuit.  

“We are interested in the outcome because there are important issues at stake as far as spot zoning,” said Nancy Powell, chair of RAP’s board. “We look forward to the building being renovated and an appropriate establishment that’s compatible with the neighborhood being there.”

Property owner Anthony Saleeba said he plans to completely renovate the building, leaving only the four walls intact. He is certain that The Roost will be approved and is preparing accordingly. 

“The judge has ruled in our favor once and we are confident that he will rule in our favor again. The lack of vision from some of the neighbors has drawn out the process. We are confident we are going to win in the end and look forward to getting the building developed,” he said.  “As soon as this is finalized with the courts, we are 100% ready to proceed.” 

Opponents from the neighborhood include the organization Positive Riverside Optimized Urban Development, or PROUD and other individuals. They say the proposed restaurant would be contrary to the character of the neighborhood. 

“As always, the majority of the neighbors would be glad to see this building put to good use as specified by the Historic Overlay, which protects our important historic and residential communities from being undermined by out-of-scale and inappropriate development concepts such as this one,” said Jennifer Wolfe, who lives near the site. “In short, a restaurant in the middle of a residential zone is not an appropriate use. We are, however, pro-development, and would love to see visionary retail, residential, and office units in that space one day. We wish the developers well and hope that our democratic process will prevail for a win-win for everyone.” 

While many spoke out against the restaurant, developers and supporters contend that The Roost would be a boon to the area, bringing a new vitality that would be beneficial.

“After starting this project four years ago, we looked forward to breathing life into a rundown building. It is sad that a lack of vision and leadership has delayed a project to the point where the building has become condemned,” said Ted Stein, who, along with J.C. Demetree, is the developer of The Roost. “As someone who lives a few blocks from The Roost, it is unfortunate that less than a handful of neighbors feel they speak for the entire neighborhood, whereas the younger generation looks forward to building a progressive community with walkable options throughout Riverside. It is not if, but when, we will open our doors and serve our neighbors not only great food, but an amazing experience.”

Clay Zeigler, who lives half a block from the Deluxe Laundry buildings, said the biggest threat to that area of Riverside is neglect.  

“While it’s clear some owners simply can’t keep up with the significant demands of maintaining an old building, some of this neglect seems willful. Our local arbiters of preservation – public and private – seem uninterested in people neglecting properties and choose instead to focus instead on people investing in them. The Deluxe Laundry is an example of both this willful neglect and our city’s neighborhood-impact-first approach to preservation.

“In order to save the Deluxe building, I personally am willing to endure the inconveniences that my close proximity to a restaurant would almost certainly bring. To me, saving our neighborhood’s meaningful structures – the best way we can before it’s too late – is paramount. Their uses can be effectively regulated later based on experience rather than endlessly debated beforehand based on assumption. But that’s not the way it seems to work here. To me the choice here is not whether to open the restaurant, it’s whether to preserve the building. I would prefer we preserve the building.”

According to an email from Marjorie Dennis, a City spokesperson, the pending lawsuit will not delay the Municipal Code Compliance Division’s (MCCD) enforcement process. 

“The owner is still responsible to ensure that the units are structurally sound, which may be accomplished without completing the full planned renovations. If the owner fails to take corrective action to make the structure stable, MCCD may seek either a monetary penalty (daily rolling fine) or demolition of the property. With the units being attached to another occupied unit, MCCD would prefer the owner take action to stabilize the condemned units.”

Dennis went on to say that since it’s early in the condemnation process, the owner has time to stabilize the units before the City takes corrective action. However, if circumstances change and there is imminent danger, they may take immediate action to protect the health and safety of the public. 

The neighborhood is currently zoned CRO. Under the current zoning and historical overlay, only small retail, mixed use and restaurants up to 60 seats may be permitted to be developed by exception while following standards that protect the character and historic appeal of Riverside.

“The overlay was written for a reason, but the first time somebody walks up and throws a wallet at it, it gets thrown away,” said Kevin Pettway, founder of PROUD. “We don’t feel like that’s appropriate. We are interested parties and we are going to make ourselves heard.”

By Kandace Lankford
Resident Community News

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