Gaffney withdraws downtown self-storage bill

Gaffney withdraws downtown self-storage bill
The property across Hendricks Avenue from bb’s restaurant + bar where residents and business owners on the Southbank fear could become the home of a multi-story self-storage facility.

Last month City Councilman Reggie Gaffney withdrew a bill to bring more self-storage facilities into the downtown overlay district to applause during the July 19 meeting of the council’s Land Use and Zoning (LUZ) Committee and the full city council followed suit seven days later.

The acclaim came because the measure was opposed by many residents, business owners and some city council members, like Michael  Boylan, Matt Carlucci and LeAnna Cumber.

Opponents of the bill argued for months that relaxing the overlay’s existing prohibition on self-storage facilities would welcome conflicts with the existing and very active neighborhoods of high-density residential, restaurant, retail and recreational land uses.

The measure was first targeted for the Southbank area of the downtown overlay when pitched to Ms. Cumber, now a mayoral candidate, more than two years ago by Jacksonville attorney Steven Diebenow. He represents a self-storage facility developer in Atlanta called The Simpson Group. It wants to buy a Southbank parcel west of Hendricks Avenue, south of Home Street and north of Louisa Street.

But after that approach failed, the attorney sought Councilman Gaffney as a sponsor for a bill to permit self-storage facilities in portions of the downtown overlay where they’re prohibited today, provided the facilities meet strict design standards, add other uses beyond self-storage and go through a public hearing process with the city.

The legislation was then sponsored and filed in 2021 by Councilman Gaffney.

Councilwoman Cumber has been outspoken this year about her displeasure with the attempt to side-step the San Marco community and its desires since the matter resurfaced earlier this year.

But she was also pleased to see the bill withdrawn last month.

“Again, I apologize to Ms. Cumber,” Councilman Gaffney said at the LUZ committee meeting on July 19 before it voted 6-0 to withdraw Ordinance 2021-821. “It was a little confusing, but we got it right at the end of the day. And let me thank the San Marco community because we’re moving forward when this is history.”

“Thank you, council member Gaffney. I appreciate your words. The neighborhood really didn’t want it. People who are interested in downtown, who have invested in downtown, who want to make it walkable…,” said Councilwoman Cumber, citing a petition with 172 written signatures in opposition. Another resident at the LUZ meeting touted 185 signatures in opposition in an online petition drive.

“Thanks to all the neighbors who worked very hard to make sure this didn’t happen,” said Councilwoman Cumber.

San Marco Preservation Society president Lauren Carlucci has been another vocal opponent of Ord. 2021-821 and applauded its withdrawal.

“Thank you for withdrawing the bill and listening to your constituents … It’s not right for downtown. It’s not right for the Southbank. I really appreciate you listening to the people you all serve,” she said. “As a San Marco resident, this was important because, from the start, we knew it was for the Southbank … It’s a prominent corner … A storage unit [facility] is not the optimal use for that property.”

Resident Linzee Ott, former society president, echoed those sentiments.

“We look forward to good urban planning, good cooperation and good collaboration in the future,” she said.

“This a strong issue for the community,” said Riverplace Boulevard resident Bryan Tidd, “and it’s something we’ll be paying attention to for a long time.”

Ms. Carlucci’s father-in-law, Councilman Matt Carlucci, said rules in the city’s overlay districts, “should not be overlooked. That happens too often.”

He also expressed potential opposition to the Atlanta storage facility developer seeking to rezone the Southbank site to planned unit development, or PUD, a flexible zoning category in which land use restrictions are negotiated piecemeal between developers and the city.

“I don’t want to see it brought back as a PUD,” said Mr. Carlucci. “That’s just going around your elbow to get to your thumb, again … I’m going to keep a keen eye out that this doesn’t come back as a PUD … It would be a waste of prime real estate.”

The gallery clapped once again when the LUZ committee voted 6-0 to withdraw the bill just six weeks after voting 6-1 in favor of it with Mr. Boylan dissenting. Once it reached the city council in late June, it was referred back to the LUZ committee for potential changes last month.

Ms. Carlucci, San Marco Preservation Society president, expects the fight may not be over.

After the vote, she posted to the Nextdoor application, “We fully expect this to come back at some point as a PUD … Thank you again to everyone who helped stop this ordinance.”

By Joel Addington
Resident Community News

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