DIA Backs Plan To Simplify Downtown Jacksonville Design Standards

Apr 18, 2019

Two pieces of legislation introduced last week by District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer, aimed at simplifying Downtown Jacksonville design standards for developers and altering parking space requirements, have jumped another hurdle.

WJCT News partner the Jacksonville Daily Record reports the Downtown Investment Authority board of directors voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend City Council approval of measures 2019-195 and 2019-196.

Boyer’s bill 2019-195 would amend the city’s 2030 comprehensive plan, eliminating a minimum parking requirement for Downtown.

The second, 2019-196, would update the Downtown zoning overlay and design standards, redrawing the existing 10 district boundaries.

Today, Downtown design districts are based on historic use and other factors.

Boyer’s legislation reworks Downtown into eight districts — Brooklyn, LaVilla, Church, Cathedral, Central Core, Southbank, Sports and Entertainment and Working Waterfront.

Her legislation eliminates River Park, River Front and Industrial districts.

DIA documents state the agency was not asked to weigh in on a third piece of companion legislation, 2019-0197, that would rezone about 980 acres of Northbank and Southbank properties from 14 categories into one commercial central business district category. That bill is under the jurisdiction of the Downtown Development Review Board.

Documents supporting 2019-0197 presented Wednesday show the CCBD zoning category now encompasses residential, commercial, office, retail, service, banks, schools, galleries and museums, parking garages, day care, medical clinics and labs, hospitals, marinas, utilities, mixed-use properties, existing shelters, temporary parking and entertainment with alcohol except in church.

What Boyer is calling bonus uses — including manufacturing, single-family homes, industrial, filling stations and others — will vary by district.

Properties that now are zoned CCBD and planned unit development will remain in those categories.

Boyer presented selected details of the proposed changes to the DIA board followed by questions with members in a meeting at City Hall on Wednesday before the vote.

Jacksonville Business Journal

DIA board member Dane Grey questioned the effectiveness of eliminating parking minimums with the current demand for Downtown parking on the rise and increases in parking rates having little impact.

“Are we not at least a little bit concerned that with the removal of this legislation that potential developers will come in and just develop and not replace or provide adequate parking for their facilities?” Grey asked.

“Or they’ll develop an area where there’s a garage but not know the capacity?”

Grey also asked Boyer if the city had a contingency plan if the market-driven parking solution did not work as intended.

The consensus among Downtown developers and building owners when researching for the bill package, Boyer said, is current city rules cannot predict future evolutions in transportation.

Boyer gave the example of ride-sharing services or autonomous vehicles. Instead of forcing developers to install parking structures that could become unnecessary and take up valuable developable property, the bill lets market demand dictate parking, she said.

“I wasn’t too worried that someone was going to try to build something with no parking and think that their tenants would be OK with that. But I wasn’t going to tell them how many spaces that needs to be,” Boyer said.

Boyer told board member Oliver Barakat in the new zoning rules, which the DIA did not vote on Wednesday, her team tried to pick up everything that’s currently a permitted use and incorporate that into the CCBD zoning and revised overlay. Barakat said he wants to ensure no property owners were getting “down-zoned” or losing any rights in the changes.

“It is our belief that no one is losing anything. If they are, it’s by mistake,” Boyer said. “It was our intent to pick up everything.”

Some “less desirable” uses, Boyer said, that were specifically excluded in the old city code will remain excluded.

DIA Operations Manager Guy Parola said Wednesday the bill also cleans up some existing issues with nonconformance.

“There were actually industrial waterfront uses between the bridges. Their zoning currently doesn’t necessarily match what the use is and there are some nonconforming uses. The way we clean that up is through the overlay,” Parola said.

“We created a working waterfront overlay and added it to that category — all industrial waterfront uses — as a bonus use,” he said.

Wednesday's presentation also delved into the bill’s height limits in new riverfront zoning.

What Boyer’s team is calling the “safe harbor criteria,” construction on the banks of St. John’s River would be divided into three zones.

Zone A is a 50-foot setback. The first 25 feet must be Riverwalk, with the next 25 feet allowing pools or outdoor restaurant seating.

Zone B will allow up to 45-foot tall structures up to 75 feet deep, and Zone C allows up to 75-foot structures up to 75-foot deep.

Developers would have the option to increase the heights of the structures in zones B and C by reducing the width in a cubic foot trade-off.

“Ultimately, the goal is to give you some breathing room and not have a solid wall of something tall along the river that blocks off the public's view and access to the waterfront, recognizing that the riverfront is probably the greatest asset of all in Downtown and making sure it is a publicly available asset and helps lift values of everything adjacent to it,” Boyer said.

DIA board member Todd Froats told Boyer he wants to ensure the new zoning can accommodate a Fortune 500 company should a development deal of that scope present itself.

Boyer said it could. She referenced an unnamed property owner on the Southbank who is working with a Miami-based architect considering a development.

In talking with those parties, Boyer said the architect found the proposed standards “fairly flexible.”  

Boyer referred to Riverplace Tower, anchored by Ameris Bank, and the Eight Forty One building, anchored by One Call, as properties that comply with the proposed riverfront setbacks in the bill.

She contrasted that with The Peninsula of Jacksonville condos and The Strand apartments as examples of properties that would not meet the proposed zoning standards.

“They are built to unlimited height all the way to the riverfront. It severely constricts the Riverwalk in that vicinity. The Riverwalk has to be offshore, the Riverwalk doesn’t feel comfortable, you can’t activate it with a sidewalk cafe, or a restaurant, or a retail space or anything else because you have this closed-off private use that is that close to the water,” Boyer said.

In its resolution, the DIA board said the two bills it recommended Wednesday meet four of the agency’s development goals for Downtown:

• Reinforce Downtown as the city’s unique epicenter for business, history, culture, education, and entertainment.

• Simplify the approval process for Downtown development and improve departmental and agency coordination.

• Improve walkability/bikeability and connectivity to adjacent neighborhoods and the St. Johns River while creating highly walkable nodes.

• Establish a waterfront design framework to ensure a unique experience and sense of place.

Boyer said after the meeting that she doesn’t see the current city code preventing Downtown development but creating more uniformity and alleviating developers’ need to file deviations with DDRB to get their plans approved.

That makes Downtown more attractive for development, particularly with those from out of town.

“Nobody likes the regulations to tie your hands and make it difficult,” she said. “The goal here is to make it clear, to make the investment decisions easier, to avoid unnecessary deviations to try to streamline it.”

The legislation was approved April 11 by the DDRB.

The next stop for the bill package is the city Planning Commission and the council Land Use and Zoning Committee on May 7.

Boyer said LUZ will consider a substitute bill package with changes based on comments Boyer and her team have received and edits. The substitute will not have “major changes,” she said.

The full council could consider the Downtown Overlay and design standard changes as early as May 14.