Developer works on architectural changes amidst opposition to church development

Developer works on architectural changes amidst opposition to church development
Presbyterian Church elders want to rezone the property where their sanctuary stands into a large PUD that also allows the maximum density allowed – 170 residential units – as well as retail sale and service of alcoholic beverages for off-premises and on-premises consumption in conjunction with a restaurant, causing worry among San Marco residents that the historic church edifice might eventually be torn down changing forever the north entrance of San Marco Square.

Opposition to the effort by church elders to rezone property owned by South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church into a Planned Unit Development (PUD) is heating up as leaders of the neighborhood group Right Size San Marco aim to work with Doug Skiles, project engineer for the development team, the San Marco Preservation Society (SMPS) and independent architect William Jaycox, who has been hired by SMPS for advice, to make Park Place at San Marco, the residential development planned for the property more palatable to the neighboring community.

As of press time, SMPS still had not voted on or officially taken a position on the project, said President Linzee Ott. “The board does have several concerns about the project and has shared some of those concerns with the development team. The board does feel the architecture – as originally presented – is not appropriate for San Marco,” she said, adding that Jaycox’s role is “not to design the building or change the site plan but to offer specific ideas and design characteristics that will help the project look and feel more ‘San Marco.’” 

As it stands now, Park Place at San Marco, which is being developed by Harbert Realty Services and Corner Lot Development Group, is a mixed-use development comprised of 143 multi-family residential units, a three-level, four-story parking garage, and recreational amenities proposed to be built on approximately three quarters of campus owned by South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church.

Church officials are petitioning the City of Jacksonville to rezone their 2.87 acres of property in the heart of San Marco from Community Commercial General – 1 (CCG-1) and Community Residential Office (CRO) to a PUD. As it is currently written, the PUD would allow 170 multi-family dwellings as well as a four-level, three-story parking garage to support residential units, church parking and some public parking, and commercial retail sales and service establishments, restaurants with outside sales and service, the establishment of facility which includes retail sale and service alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption or for on-premises consumption in conjunction with a restaurant.

The proposed PUD also requests a deviation that will allow 1.3 parking spaces be allowed for each unit in the apartment building, as opposed to the City’s normal stipulation of 1.7 spaces per unit for each one bedroom above 500 square feet in size. Parking may also be provided on-street, off-street or in the parking garage, with 104 parking spaces reserved for use by South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church during services and other events. Parking will be located in the parking garage or within “Area A” where the existing church sanctuary now resides or on the street. Up to 35 spaces may accommodate compact cars, and vehicular access to the garage will be via Mango Place and Mitchell Avenue, according to the PUD application.

The church is also asking for a deviation so that the “active recreation space,” be reduced from 150 square feet per unit to approximately 80 feet per unit. “Because of the urban setting of the area, it is impossible to meet the same recreational standards as would be applicable to a suburban site,” according to the application.

Design guidelines in the proposed PUD call for a setbacks from the apartment building of 7.5 feet from Alford Place and Mango Place right of ways, a 0-foot setback from the garage and a six-foot setback from Area A, where the church sanctuary will be located, a 43-foot setback from Hendricks Avenue right of way, a 0 setback allowance to the parking garage

On the conceptual site plan, the parking garage on the southeastern portion of the property allows for a 20-foot setback from Area A, a 0-foot setback from Mitchell Avenue and Mango Place right of ways and a 7.5-foot setback from the multi-family units in the building from Mitchell Avenue. The maximum height of the garage will be 40 feet and will not include rooftop mechanical equipment and architectural features that may extend another five feet from the roof line.

In Area A, located on the southwestern portion of the property, there is allowed a 0-foot setback from Mitchell Avenue and Hendricks Avenue right of ways, a 20-foot setback from the eastern Area A boundary and a 0-foot setback from the northern Area A boundary. The maximum height of the building is 45 feet, and this does not include rooftop mechanical equipment and architectural features which may extend another five feet above the roofline.

During a Jacksonville City Council meeting held Dec. 10 at City Hall, 14 residents addressed the council concerning RE#081704 and RE#081712 during the Council’s public comment session, with one resident speaking in favor of the project and 13 speaking against. In their comments, most residents cited increased density, traffic congestion, the sale of alcohol on the church sanctuary parcel, the possibility of increased flooding and the large scale of the proposed apartment building and parking garage as the reasons they were against the project.

During his comments, Jon Livingston, founder of Right Size San Marco, a group of residents formed to oppose the development, said his group has grown to more than 500 residents with 350 homeowners now sporting yard signs in support of the organization. In his comments, he complained about the lack of aesthetics and integration of the apartment building and garage into the neighborhood, the ability to serve and sell alcohol on the Area A parcel, and the requested deviation of 1.3 parking spaces per unit in the garage, noting that no spaces have been allowed for employees, guests or future commercial enterprises that might be built in the PUD in the future.

“If they ever have a restaurant, they won’t have to go through rezoning to allow for extra spaces,” he said. “We’re wondering where they’re going to park?” said Livingston. “I asked the developer, and he said they are going to tow the people from the apartments on the bottom floor when the church wants to come in. Are you going to tow somebody paying $1,700 a month for a one-bedroom? He said, they will get the point after a couple of tows. My point is, where do they park if they can’t park in the parking garage?”

Morgan Roberts, a River Road resident, spoke in favor of the project. She said she believes San Marco will have to face increased traffic “regardless of whether this happens or not. If you look at the traffic generated by this type of project, it is much less than other things that could be put on the property. I think the developer has been responsible with the highest part of the building, and they are using expensive materials that will help keep the San Marco look and feel.” As a former resident of Charlotte, N.C., Roberts said she saw the property values of bungalows “skyrocket” once a similar multi-family project such as Park Place at San Marco moved into the neighborhood. Jacksonville needs to stay “competitive” with other cities when it comes to supplying suitable housing for employees that earn six-figure salaries, she said.

Representing the developers, Skiles said he has met several times with representatives from Right Size San Marco and SMPS and is currently working on several changes to the plan, which will have to be approved by the church leadership. “We have been meeting with SMPS to better understand the concerns. It is difficult to respond to a general statement of ‘we don’t like it,’ which has led SMPS to consult with local architect Bill Jaycox to provide more detailed feedback. We had our first meeting Dec. 11 with SMPS and Bill to get a sense of where we should go with future revisions. It is my understanding that SMPS will be sharing this feedback with other community members. These conversations will continue so that we can deliver a development to San Marco that will provide a valuable place for new residents to live as well as an enhanced street/sidewalk, additional parking and financial resources for the future success of South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church.”

Church leadership responds to residents’ concerns

Many San Marco residents openly oppose the rezoning of the South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church campus because the Planned Unit Development will increase the density of the neighborhood and allow the area where the church sanctuary is located to include the retail sale and service of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption or for on-premises consumption in conjunction with a restaurant.

Also worrisome to many who are not members of South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church, was the termination of employment of Pastor C.J. Dates, who worked for the church approximately 100 days and gave his first sermon in August 2019, after the church membership voted in favor of selling and developing the property.

“We heard this last week that the pastor was let go from the church, and we’re really worried about the sanctuary,” said Jon Livingston, founder of Right Size San Marco, a neighborhood group opposed to the project during a public comment session before the Jacksonville City Council Dec. 10. “We’re talking about them keeping the sanctuary, but unfortunately, the church is going through some difficult times. They will not come to the table. They also have an incentive with the developer, who agreed to give them $2 million for the first 100 apartments and $20,000 for every apartment built after that. What this has done is put the church in a position to make more money by having a higher density. The density is already on the edge, and this is a travesty to the neighborhood,” he said.

Responding to neighborhood concerns, the church leadership issued a statement to The Resident via email. “The dismissal of Pastor C.J. Dates was an employment issue and was in no way connected the planned development project. In fact, C.J. was a strong advocate for the project and was excited to see the opportunities for both the church and the community as a result of the planned development.

“While the proposed uses for the ‘retained property,’ outlined in the PUD seek to maximize the potential uses of the property, our intent, as stated before, is for SJPC to have a presence on the corner of Hendricks for the next 100 years. However, the church trustees and elders have a fiduciary responsibility to not limit prospective uses and thus value. The broader descriptions outlined in the PUD will enhance the property’s value in the unlikely event that the church decides for any reason that it is in its best interest to sell.

“Our contract with Herbert Realty does provide the church with certain approval rights. Our rights regarding the density of the property are intended to limit, rather than increase, the density of the project. Our congregation was concerned about selling to a developer that would maximize the property for the developer’s benefit but leave the neighborhood and the church feeling claustrophobic and congested. We believe that the current plans strike a balance between providing the developer with a reasonable financial return yet remaining well below the maximum allowable density.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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