Storage facility ordinance losing favor?

Storage facility ordinance losing favor?
This self-storage facility overlooking The Bearded Pig BBQ restaurant parking lot is less than a mile south of the property where a proposed storage facility is planned on the Southbank across the street from bb's Restaurant

Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber was successful on June 14 at stalling a proposed ordinance to bring more self-storage units to downtown neighborhoods.

The ordinance, sparking an outpouring of opposition among residents who flooded city council inboxes, would permit mixed-use self-storage facilities by exception within 500 feet of the downtown overlay district. That means developers would be permitted to build them after gaining approval from the city following public hearings.

On the north side of the St. Johns River, the overlay district is bounded by interstates 10 and 95 on the south and west, respectively; the river on the east and the Arlington Expressway on the north. On the south side of the river, the overlay includes the Southbank north of 95.

Map showing DIA boundaries

Today self-storage facilities are prohibited in the overlay.

An Atlanta-based company represented by Jacksonville attorney Steven Diebenow has been pursuing the ordinance for some two years now to change downtown’s zoning laws. He argues there’s ample demand for more self-storage downtown, the mixed-use requirements for a portion of the facilities should make them more active than traditional single-use self-storage facilities like the U-Haul building in La Villa and they’ll be prohibited on the waterfront.

An amendment made to the ordinance on June 14 by a narrow 10-9 vote margin of the city council would permit mixed-use self-storage facilities when a portion of the facility was inside the 500-foot boundary rather than the entire facility. That means large facilities could encroach inside the overlay boundary, potentially, in contrast to recommendations made by the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA).

DIA opposed the ordinance but made recommendations for changes should it gain the support of city council members, including that the storage facilities be wholly inside the 500 feet around the overlay boundary.

That was too close for Councilwoman Cumber and at least eight other city council members who voted against the amendment with her, she said.

The council also voted 12-7 on June 14 to send the ordinance, as amended, back to the council’s Land Use and Zoning (LUZ) committee for rehearing.

“It was great to see the whole community get together at the end of the day and agree to stick to the plan,” she said on June 22. “If we do more of that we can really grow. It’s fantastic to see people — developers, neighbors, business owners — get together in unison to say this is not what we want. I’m glad to be their voice and fight it …

“I would have preferred it to be voted down, but I’ll take it. It shows we need to stick to a plan. There are reasons we don’t want storage facilities downtown.”

She listed them for fellow council members during the council meeting a week prior.

She said the city is investing millions of taxpayer dollars in improvements downtown for the Emerald Trail and Lara Street Trio while currently seeking to invest more as private developers rush to do the same. She said those investments would be harmed by permitting more storage facilities downtown.

She said self-storage facilities generate about one-third of the property tax revenue that could be generated from residential development, limiting the city’s ability to invest further.

Finally, she said, the ordinance has drawn fierce opposition from the community and the downtown overlay should not be changed at the whim of a single developer based in Atlanta aiming to redevelop a single property in the Southbank area across the street from BB’s Restaurant where a parking lot exists today.

Councilwoman Randy DeFoor, who recently announced she would be leaving office, opposed the ordinance and voted against the amendment. She said changes across downtown were not appropriate given the developer’s contract to buy a single property.

“I hope it comes back. It doesn’t make sense to change the overlay for one project. … I will not be supporting it,” said Councilwoman DeFoor, adding the developer may have more success with a rezoning request for a planned unit development, or PUD, which can be tailored to specific properties.

“It doesn’t fit what the community wants,” said Councilman Al Ferraro in the June 14 hearing.

Attorney Diebenow contends his client’s interest in a single property doesn’t mean there’s not a need for more self-storage facilities downtown.

Today a large storage facility overlooks The Bearded Pig BBQ restaurant less than a mile south of BB’s.

“This would allow storage units next to the [planned] Four Seasons,” said Councilwoman Cumber during the June 14 meeting. “… Storage units don’t have a place downtown … Let’s get downtown so it’s more vibrant. Nobody wants the Emerald Trail lined with self-storage units … They’re cash cows. Super-cheap to build. Almost zero maintenance.”

If she can sway one more council member to vote against the ordinance, it could die from a lack of 10 supporters on council. And ordinance sponsor Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who voted for the amendment and referral back to LUZ, has been swamped by constituents opposing the measure and said his support is wavering.

Nonetheless, 10 other council members voted in favor of the proposed ordinance as tweaked on June 14 and it’s expected to be heard again in July before the LUZ.

The LUZ on June 7 approved moving the ordinance by a 6-1 vote to the full council with Councilman Michael Boylan as the lone dissenter.

In July, LUZ members may attempt to reach a compromise with the developer and attorney Diebenow before the ordinance reaches the city council once again.

Lauren Carlucci, who also opposed the ordinance as vice president of the San Marco Historical Preservation Society, said she doubts a compromise can be reached but will be monitoring the issue closely.

The developer could withdraw the ordinance and make a narrower application for new zoning specific to the property at a later date.

Mr. Diebenow has argued there are thousands of residential units approved in the area and they’ll need more self-storage. His client has agreed to build a facility with mixed uses like office, restaurant or retail space and architectural facades that meet downtown design standards.

“It’s not necessarily over,” said Councilwoman Cumber. “I’ve been dealing with the project for two years, so it’s not something you can say, ‘Got that done and move on.’ “Something will happen next month.”

By Joel Addington
Resident Community News

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