Murray Hill on edge over impending decision on self-storage facility

Murray Hill on edge over impending decision on self-storage facility
Photo by Mark Krancer

Murray Hill residents are starting to worry the recent surge in popularity of the more-than-century-old urban community is becoming attractive for developments, such as a self-storage facility, that they feel could detract from the neighborhood’s charm and family-friendly atmosphere.

“These types of developments will inhibit the growth and resurgence of Murray Hill that has been taking place the past couple years,” said David Arnold on social media regarding proposed plans for a new self-
storage facility. “It will no longer be desirable for people to move here and be willing to pay the price Murray Hill was commanding. The Murray Hill area is in a fragile state as it could go in either direction very quickly right now if the city doesn’t acknowledge the vitality of this community.”

In 2003, Murray Hill Preservation Association (MHPA) sponsored the design of a plan called the Town Center Vision Plan for Murray Hill. The plan took a year to develop and proposed to restore and improve the community’s town center established decades before. It identified the heart of the Town Center as the intersection of Edgewood Avenue and Post Street.

The report included negative and positive perspectives about Murray Hill: “Run down, outdated” “Needs a facelift” “Needs to improve business” “Doesn’t feel safe after dark” as well as “Has good potential” “Is convenient, with a large variety of shops” and “Is a diverse community” “Is a nice neighborhood with nice houses.” 

It also noted what Murray Hill residents and business owners wanted to see happen: “Businesses to improve their storefronts” “More dining and retail businesses” “Retain its historic character, like 1950s Mayberry” “Provide for more outdoor seating” “Improve lighting along the corridor” and “Be a family-friendly atmosphere for children and seniors.”

The result of the study was a million-dollar plan to add ornamental lighting, improve sidewalks, reduce curb cuts, install street trees and medians, improve intersections and bus stops, add street furniture, additional parking and irrigation along Edgewood Avenue from Mayflower Street north to Hamilton Street.

Before funding could be obtained, the economy tanked, and the Vision Plan fell by the wayside. Around 2014, about 10 years after the study, Murray Hill began to grow again, with little to no help from the City of Jacksonville. New, young families were beginning to realize the value of the well-built older homes and young entrepreneurs began to breathe new life into storefronts up and down Edgewood Avenue. It finally became clear there was no room for the Fat Kat Lounge, a dubious night club in the first block of Edgewood Avenue, and nearly five years after it closed, a portion of it was repurposed into a family-friendly brewpub.

The preservation group was revitalized with younger leadership and a new, hipper character begin to emerge: Mural Hill. For the past four years, businesses have sponsored more than a dozen murals by local and out-of-state artists making the Hill vibrant.

Long-time residents, of which there are a significant number, have embraced the change while trying to maintain the character that makes Murray Hill unique. Now old and new residents alike are fighting to keep development from changing what Mary McLane calls that “old-school vibe.” Afraid for her property values, McLane, who purchased a home there in 2016, was in tears speaking during a public hearing for the proposed self-storage facility at the entrance of Murray Hill.

Welcome to Murray Hill

In April an application for an administrative deviation was filed in order to allow the Silverfield Group to put in a three-
story self-storage facility at the corner of Edgewood Avenue and Plymouth Street, the site of the former Jones College and the entrance to the community. 

After 500 residents attended two public meetings, nearly 60 residents of Murray Hill and some from Avondale showed up at the July 19 hearing for the administrative deviation which, if approved, would allow the self-storage facility to be developed. 

Because the 1.66-acre site is currently zoned CCG-1 (Commercial/Community General), it is permitted by right in Part 4 of the Zoning Code for a self-storage facility to be put in. The Murray Hill community would prefer to see retail fronts along Plymouth Street to support growth and offer a “more welcoming face” to the neighborhood. 

The developer originally stated at two community meetings that the corner portion of the property would include 4,845-square-foot retail space but said they would not build it until the storage facility was complete and an interested tenant was found. Opponents at the hearing expressed concern that after Jones College was demolished the undeveloped corner at Edgewood and Plymouth could remain vacant for a long time.

The application, filed by attorney Steve Diebenow of the law firm Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow on behalf of property owner Riverton Town Senior Center, Inc., requested reduced parking, loading spaces, setbacks and minimum lot size. The setbacks between the commercial property and adjoining residential are requested to be reduced from 30 feet to 8 feet on the south property line and to 4 feet on the east property line; parking is requested to be reduced from 51 spaces to seven; and lot size from 2 acres to 1.2 acres.

At the July 19 hearing, some who opposed the storage facility went so far as to urge solidarity by boycotting the facility should it be approved, and one woman threatened to sue should her property values decline if and when the facility was built. The Planning Department’s staff report noted the requested deviations would not substantially diminish property values but “would result in a development that shields nearby residential properties from the visual impact and noise generated by trains on the adjacent CSX railroad and vehicles traveling along Roosevelt Boulevard.” 

Only one person spoke in support of the project, a former City Planner and real estate sales agent who lives 20 miles southwest of Murray Hill. Despite the more than 30 who spoke against the development, “the opposition is irrelevant per code,” said Diebenow, referring to Municipal Code 656.401. “It’s interesting, but it’s irrelevant.”

 The Planning staff report noted a precedent set over the past 17 years in granting relief and flexibility from the strict letter of the code for nearly two dozen multi-story self-storage units designed under newer industry standards to resemble multi-story office buildings.

Despite a stated lack of support by the Murray Hill Preservation Association, Murray Hill Merchants Association, Riverside Avondale Preservation and nearly 5,000 people who signed a petition against the facility, the Planning staff recommended approval of the deviation. As of press time, no decision had yet been rendered by Zoning Administrator Sean Kelly, who has 21 days from the July 19 meeting to approve or disapprove the administration deviation request. Watch for updates on residentnews.net.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading...

You must be logged in to post a comment Login