We’re excited about Park Place, a 133 unit luxury apartment complex in the heart of San Marco. This project is exactly the type of development envisioned by the community through San Marco by Design. It is forward looking as San Marco adapts its codes to meet resiliency needs, it is an equitable application of the zoning codes, and it adds critical density to support the local businesses.
Envision Design teamed up with Harbert Construction of Birmingham, local architectural firm Group 4, and Cornerlot Properties to carry out SMBD’s vision in San Marco.
The project is located at the south end of San Marco Square on 2 parcels of property owned by a South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church. We have a special connection to SJPC since our 3 children attended preschool there and Laura served on the Advisory Board and chaired the annual fundraiser. The church, like many over the last several decades, saw declining membership and needed to sell off a portion of its property. Harbert Realty negotiated to buy the property at a price that would allow the church to remain viable, plus it agreed to provide parking for church needs.
In addition to our client’s and the church’s needs there were several other interested groups- The San Marco Preservation Society, the San Marco Merchants’ Association, and a grassroots opposition group. As a good neighbor, the development team and the church worked with all of these groups to address the majority of their concerns, and incorporated their desires into the plans.
The biggest challenge, however, was presented from the “Neighborhood Action Plan” which is an amalgamation of two different documents, the original San Marco by Design and the San Marco Overlay. Park Place required ingenuity and perseverance to work through the zoning challenges. Combining the 2 disparately zoned parcels required PUD rezoning, with approval needed from the city’s planning department, the Land Use and Zoning Committee, and the City Council. Here’s a bit of that history.
San Marco By Design
San Marco by Design is the community vision for future development in San Marco. It was developed in 2010-2012 through a series of well advertised, well attended community meetings. We received guidance from livable communities expert, Dan Burden, who emphasized that increasing density is a key factor in creating healthy, thriving, walkable communities. San Marco expressed the desire to be that type of community.
The forward of the document, written by Doug, states “We cannot be diligent enough to ensure this is a community vision, not just the goals of a select few.”
In this document, created by the community and approved by SMPS board, the Park Place property was included in the transportation corridor and had the same rights as other transportation corridor properties, with 4-6 story buildings. It also envisioned an opportunity for a shared use parking agreement between the church and the San Marco businesses, similar to the one between the merchants and Southside Baptist Church.
San Marco Overlay
The San Marco Overlay is the zoning code for San Marco. It was originally conceptualized by our district councilperson as the Lake Marco Overlay, with the intent of preserving historic homes around Lake Marco. A professional study was done and a well written overlay was created. Gradually, with each new councilmember, the San Marco Overlay expanded its boundaries into the commercial district and beyond. These later iterations were not guided by professional studies or vetted with the community or property owners. Single family residential standards of 35′ were arbitrarily and inequitably applied to select commercial properties.
In Riverside, a similar Jacksonville historic district, 3 story commercial buildings are allowed 45′ to promote historic style architecture. Our hope is that the San Marco Overlay will be updated with more equitable, reasonable guidelines.
Neighborhood Action Plan (NAP)
The NAP is based on SMBD but where discrepancies exist beween the community’s vision and the overlay, it defers to the overlay. Typically, zoning codes follow the vision for a city or community, but the opposite was done in San Marco.
In the NAP, created by “a select few“, one portion of the Park Place property had a new 35′ height restriction placed on it. The height restriction was financially incompatible with the desired goals of San Marco by Design- increased density and a joint parking arrangement with the church. Further complicating the situation was (arguably unconstitutional) language added to the overlay which sought to prevent property owners from requesting changes.
To make the project economically viable while remaining within the NAP parameters, Doug implemented height averaging. Height averaging is little known to the public, even though it is included in Jacksonville zoning codes and has been used previously. The team had to demonstrate to the city council how height averaging respects and enhances the transition between single family residences to the south and the commercial Publix shopping center to the north. It also allowed for the desired shared parking between the development and the church.
Victory for the Community Vision
Ultimately the project received unanimous approval from the Planning Commission and the Land Use and Zoning Committee. The city council recognized the value of the project to the community and commended the design team for its tremendous effort to work with all parties involved. It passed with only one opposing vote.
Once built, Park Place will be one of two apartment complexes near San Marco Square that meets walkability standards and is completely out of the flood prone areas of San Marco. It will serve as an example of development for resiliency and will bring much needed density and vibrancy to the businesses in San Marco Square.
Further, it is a victory for equity in San Marco. A similar development, surrounding the same village district but on the east side of the railroad tracks, was approved and built without opposition, next to modest single family homes. That apartment complex along Philips is also a great addition to the neighborhood and is an important link in connecting San Marco to the charming St. Nicholas neighborhood.
Once Park Place is built we will update with photos.