New zoning ‘win-win’ for tenants, neighbors and new owner of former Miller Electric HQ

New zoning ‘win-win’ for tenants, neighbors and new owner of former Miller Electric HQ
Councilwoman Randy DeFoor during an early September meeting with neighbors and the new property owner's consultant, Taylor Mejia

The Jacksonville City Council finalized new zoning and land use for the former Miller Electric headquarters in the Five Points neighborhood of Riverside south of Interstate 10 along Roselle Street between Copeland and Osceola streets on September 13.

The new zoning is a flexible category called planned unit development (PUD) with business park (BP) land use restrictions to accommodate existing long-term leases to a W.W. Gay subsidiary, Sciens Building Solutions, as well as other manufacturing, warehousing and office-like operations.

The 4.3 acres consisting of four contiguous parcels had differing zoning and land use designations and following the sale of the property from Miller to an Atlanta-based electrical company founder Paul E. Mayberry for $5.85 million last May, the latter sought to consolidate the land use and zoning among the parcels.

He purchased the property as an investment with no immediate plans to make changes, said consultant Taylor Mejia with The Southern Group on behalf of the owner, beyond linking four parcels under like land use and zoning designations with terms outlined in a planned unit development (PUD) agreement with the city.

Neighbors, meanwhile, were very concerned about the potential for added traffic, self-storage facilities and expansion of manufacturing or industrial activity at the property. They joined outgoing city councilwoman Randy DeFoor, whose district includes the property, during two community meetings with Ms. Mejia, most recently in early September ahead of city rezoning hearings.

They won some concessions on fencing and signage and councilwoman DeFoor pledged to fund speed bumps on Gilmore Street to slow down drivers using $4500 her office has available for local projects. Nearly all the neighbors indicated that drivers speed through the area with many pedestrians in the mornings and evenings.

“… I’ll find the money,” she said during the community meeting in early September.

Among the terms of the new PUD zoning is a 35-foot height limit to freestanding signage on three of the four parcels involved. The fourth has two existing billboard signs facing the interstate today that the new owner wanted to be grandfathered into the new land use and zoning restrictions. That parcel must comply with city signage regulations for commercial general zoning under the compromise passed by the city council.

The 30-plus-foot sign height roiled neighbors, however.

“That will affect property values. That’s important,” said Councilwoman DeFoor, echoing neighbors’ sentiments.

Outdoor storage of equipment and the like must have an 8-foot fence or wall no less than 95 percent opaque.

Robin Lumb, a nearby resident, former city councilman and retired city consultant, followed the rezoning closely as the property abuts a residential road in Gilmore Street and is close to Central Riverside Elementary and the proposed Emerald Trail route.

“Oddly, the height of stored materials is allowed to exceed the height of the 8-foot fence by 2 feet?!” wrote Mr. Lumb in an email update after the city council approval. Stored materials may be as high as 10 feet.

Miller Electric initially and then Mr. Mayberry worked through consultants with Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP), councilwoman DeFoor and nearby residents to establish compromises aimed at keeping the residential character of the surrounding area intact moving forward but allowing the existing property uses to continue.

The property lies within the historic Riverside Avondale Preservation District zoning overlay that requires the area’s residential character to be encouraged over commercial development.

Residents voiced objections during the latter public meetings that the new zoning would enshrine that the new owner won’t have to comply with the same rules they do under the historic overlay, which the property was technically violating prior to the rezoning.

Still, councilwoman DeFoor dubbed the final PUD ordinance a “win-win for the applicant and the community …”

While not typically permitted on the property with business park land use designations, single and multi-family residential dwellings will be allowed under terms of the compromise reached with the neighborhood, Ms. Mejia said during a Land Use and Zoning (LUZ) Committee hearing in mid-September.

Despite pressure from residents, RAP and councilwoman DeFoor to eliminate self-storage facilities as a permitted use, the compromise was to allow personal property storage only by exception, meaning a public hearing and notices to neighbors will be required before the special use is permitted.

To allow existing light manufacturing uses to continue on the property that today violate city zoning and land use requirements, the new PUD zoning will permit “electrical contractor or similar trades to include but not limited to plumbing, HVAC, mechanical, or general contractor including office, light fabricating, light manufacturing, packaging, and processing, all of which must be conducted indoors,” a planning department report noted.

Mr. Lumb said the city’s certificate of appropriateness process will apply to the property if the buildings are changed or razed and new structures built.

“The applicant also previously removed ‘parcel processing and delivery services,’ as a potential use which means we won’t have to worry about Amazon creating a mini-hub on Rosselle Street,” he said.

“While I continue to believe the rezoning was unnecessary and not in the best interest of preserving the residential character of our neighborhood, we did get certain concessions,” he continued. “Ultimately, I don’t believe this rezoning will have a significant negative impact on our neighborhood. With Miller Electric gone as well as Century Ambulance, I expect vehicle traffic up and down Gilmore to be significantly reduced in volume despite the rezoning.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Lumb feels the city’s rezoning process favors developers more than residents.

“The rezoning process is stacked against neighborhood groups like ours,” he said. “The planning commission is a virtual rubber stamp for well-financed developers and many city council members are not sympathetic with the special status of the Riverside Avondale Historic District. Those city council members tend to see the district as more of a nuisance than an asset.”

He recalls before Miller Electric bought the property for its headquarters that has since moved to the Southside when homes on Rosselle Street were demolished or moved to make way for new commercial development. Roselle Street was made a one-way entrance onto the interstate, which forced truck traffic onto the adjacent residential streets.

“While the entire application is an intensification of land use, we have worked with the applicant to address specific changes based on feedback from the residents and our support for the zoning overlay,” said Mr. Lumb after the LUZ committee hearing. “We have requested that industrial activities and any use that could bring noise, odor, or increased large truck traffic to the area be eliminated from the application, successfully…”

“Now is the time to fight,” said resident Maria Shea of Gilmore Street, concerning self-storage facilities at the second community meeting in September, following another last Spring.

“Murray Hill didn’t raise heck … And they [the developer and city] went right through [with a self-storage facility],” she said.

By Joel Addington
Resident Community News

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