As city planning officials review nearly 900 additional apartment units on offer in the city’s downtown neighborhoods, an Atlanta company that specializes in developing commercial land for retail and office units self-storage sees dollar signs. Specifically, the company is eyeing the south shore of San Marco.
In early May, company attorney Steve Diebenow told city council members of the Land Use and Zoning (LUZ) committee that there were already thousands of multi-family residential units approved or in construction nearby and more along the way. He said self-storage facilities naturally follow such high-density residential development.
“It’s a ringing endorsement of what’s happening downtown,” he told the LUZ committee, whose chairman, Councilman Rory Diamond, signaled support for the plan in general.
Diebenow said current occupancy rates for self-storage facilities in the Jacksonville market are 94-95%.
“There is a demand for self-storage and it is a growing demand that can be met with additional locations,” the lawyer said.
There is, however, strong opposition to the company’s plans from downtown and neighborhood advocates. The proposal would change zoning rules in most central downtown areas – the Southbank, Cathedral, Central Core, Sports and Entertainment and Working Waterfront areas – to allow self-storage facilities by special exception after public hearings. They are prohibited in these places today.
However, they are permitted in the Church, LaVilla, and Brooklyn portions of the Downtown Stacked Neighborhood.
The Atlanta company has been identified as the “Simpson Organization” by Mr. Diebenow. His plans were under discussion before the LUZ panel in early May, when a related order was filed in mid-May, when it was refiled.
The road to approval for a new self-storage facility is two-fold, Diebenow said. First, rule changes for the town center overlay would require approval, and second, a plan for a specific property, perhaps a Southbank site north of Home Street, south of Prudential and west of Hendricks Avenue, used as a parking lot for nearby businesses. and apartments. He said his client had exclusive development rights to the property.
He expected a vote on the issue on May 17, but at the request of the ordinance’s sponsor, Councilman Reggie Gaffney, it was tabled, yet again.
Mr Diebenow originally approached Councilor LeAnna Cumber last year about the proposal, but negotiations fell through and he approached Councilor Gaffney to sponsor legislation, despite the Southbank property not being in his district .
Councilor Cumber was discouraged by the tactic at the hearing in early May.
She explained that a year and a half ago, Mr. Diebenow inquired about a site-specific exception to zoning laws for a self-storage facility on the South Shore and his answer was no because his constituents opposed it.
This led counsel to Councilman Gaffney, whose district includes other parts of the Overlay District but not the South Shore, to sponsor an ordinance authorizing, by special exception, self-storage facilities in the Overlay.
“That’s why we’re doing all downtown, for this one property?” said Councilman Cumber, who is considering running for mayor.
The lawyer countered that the nearest self-storage facility on the South Bank is more than a mile from the site, close to where Vestcor has more apartments planned.
“’Do what you must.’ That’s what you said,” the lawyer quoted the counselor from their previous conversation.
Mr Diebenow said he told the councilor about the Southbank property in a move of transparency, but his client’s request for the LUZ committee was for the city center overlay, not just the South Bank site.
This capped off about 45 minutes of discussion on the matter, after which Councilor Diamond said, “Let’s see if we can land this.”
That wouldn’t happen though.
Councilwoman Cumber suggested that if LUZ goes ahead with the ordinance, she would like an exclusion for her district of San Marco.
Lori Boyer, CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority, and others spoke out against the proposal.
Ms Boyer said self-storage facilities were not permitted in most downtown zoning because people generally do not actively use them for residing, shopping or dining.
Mr Diebenow said his client would agree to set aside a fifth of the floor space for such uses.
“It doesn’t bring life to the area, even if you make the street look good,” Boyer said. “It’s not the same as more active use. That was the reason they weren’t allowed initially.
“We just don’t think it’s in the interest of downtown development to have a lot of them downtown where we’re trying to have that density of people…” she said.
Mr. Diebenow said his client was responsible for the development of the Publix on Amelia Island and a self-storage facility on Normandy Boulevard.
“We don’t think it will improve the neighborhood and that’s why we’re against it,” summed up Zimmermann Boulos, a longtime advocate for public art and green spaces in San Marco.
“I know storage units are needed, but I’d like to see something that serves the community there, so I’m not supporting that,” bb’s restaurant owner Barbara Bredehoeft said. His restaurant is across Hendricks Avenue from the Southbank site.
By Joel Addington
Resident Community News