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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jun. 5, 201905:20 AM EST

Facade grant program part of plan to reduce blight in Arlington

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City plan would offer businesses in the Renew Arlington CRA up to $20,000 to update facades.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

Arlington businesses could freshen their facades with help from the city if they qualify in the proposed zoning overlay.

Those in the Renew Arlington Community Redevelopment Area could apply for up to $20,000 if they invest $10,000 to comply with the overlay’s new designs standards.

Jacksonville Planning and Development Department and Office of Economic Development representatives detailed the proposal and the latest modification to the overlay plan Monday night in a public forum with business owners at River City Baptist Church at 6801 Merrill Road.

“I’ve seen a lot of facade grant program over the years with the city. I’ve never seen one that’s gone above $10,000, so this is a pretty aggressive approach the city would take,” said Kirk Wendland, OED executive director.

City Council approved the creation of the Renew Arlington Community Redevelopment Area in 2015 to address blighted conditions.

It encompasses property along three corridors in Arlington: University Boulevard from the Arlington Expressway to Fort Caroline Road; Merrill Road from University Boulevard to Interstate 295; and a section of Arlington Road from University Boulevard to Rogero Road.

If council approves the grant program, it would give $2 for every $1 of private investment by businesses within the CRA.

Commercial property owners would use the money to comply with signage that doesn’t meet new height and dimension standards set out in the overlay, as well as install landscaping and buffers like fencing.

Wendland said OED officials calculated that most businesses will need $30,000 or less in investment to comply with the new standards.

Business owners would have five years to implement the new landscaping, signage and fencing regulations if the overlay takes effect, but modifications unveiled Monday include some leeway.

The five-year compliance clock would not start when the legislation is enacted but on Jan. 1, 2020.

To encourage early adoption of the regulations, officials said the 200% match will be available only until Dec. 31, 2021.

The facade program will be funded through tax increment financing attached to the Renew Arlington CRA. Wendland said this year’s CRA budget is $700,000 and officials expect it to grow if more development comes to the area.

“As we go to other parts of town, we see areas that look really appealing, inviting with landscaping. It just looks clean. We can do the same thing,” said council member Joyce Morgan, who hosted Monday’s forum. “I believe it begins with updated standards. I believe it begins with uniformity.”

Overlay and modifications

Monday’s forum served as a platform for the city and business organizations like Arlington 20/20 and the Commercial Real Estate Development Association Northeast Florida Chapter to present changes to the NAIOP plan they’ve been drafting since September 2018.

The latest version of the overlay eliminates the requirement for a 10-foot-deep landscape buffer between commercial parking lots and residential property.

It also removes a 5-foot landscaping buffer requirement for existing buildings adjacent to residential properties and the required fencing can be 85% opaque.

Many business owners said the materials mandated for dumpster barriers and other fencing in the first overlay draft were too costly. The proposed modifications allow fencing made from wood and vinyl.

City planners also loosened height and dimension restrictions for signage.

Businesses like restaurants or bars will be required to provide 100% of the parking required in city code, but the overlay offers parking reduction incentives when off-street parking or shared parking is available nearby, the number of driveways is reduced or additional bicycle parking is provided.

The CRA is divided into five character areas, each with its own standards.

Outdoor displays of merchandise would be prohibited in all character areas with the exception of the “Catalyst Character Areas” at the Arlington Expressway and University Blvd and Merrill Road and Interstate 295. Those are commercial centers.

William Killingsworth, director of the city’s Planning and Development Department, said the outdoor displays would be limited to seasonal items or merchandise typically stored outside.

City officials discussed the Renew Arlington Community Redevelopment Area plan Tuesday at a public forum with business owners at River City Baptist Church.

“Washing machines, stoves and ranges wouldn’t be allowed to display outside for sales, but mulch, plants, things that are used and normally associated with the outside, would be allowed for outside display,” Killingsworth said.

According to OED Redevelopment Manager Karen Nasrallah, the changes came from walking the CRA, talking to business owners and looking at the commercial properties to see what made sense.

“We said tell us what you want. Tell us what you want your streets to look like. Tell us what you want for businesses. What do you envision in Arlington? And it was safe, walkable, beautiful streets,” Nasrallah said.

The general sentiment from business and commercial property owners was hesitancy. They said Monday the intent of the overlay is positive, but they are concerned about representation. There was no commercial property owner on the advisory board drafting the new regulations who would be affected by them.

Bill Cesery owns Lake Lucina Shopping Center, anchored by a Save a Lot grocery store.

Cesery, whose father built the commercial strip mall in 1960, is concerned the two-year sunset on the facade grant won’t be enough to persuade some businesses to update signage before the end of the five-year mandate. He also wants to see the parking regulations reworked.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a zoning overlay that takes down every commercial sign in the overlay and destroys parking lots,” he said.

“The way it currently reads, we’ll lose about 30 parking spaces right there in front of Save  A Lot.”

The overlay will require City Council approval.

Cesery said he plans to propose changes during the council committee process, but he said the revisions “do help.”

“There are a lot of really good things in this, but there are a lot of head-scratching things, too,” he said. “I think there are a lot of things that just need to be tweaked, then we can get behind this.”

Residential property owners asked business owners and city officials to work out their differences and support the overlay.

Raised in Arlington since 1977, Greg Minton bought a home in the neighborhood that he said is “my heart and is my soul.”

Minton said his wife is ready to move out of Arlington, but he sees the overlay as a chance for revitalization, increased property values and new business investment.

“This is extremely important to residents. I know there’s lots of issues that affect businesses and a lot of little details that have to be worked out. But I don’t want to go to San Marco to go out to eat. I don’t want to have to go to Riverside to go shopping or go places,” he said. “I’d love to stay here.”

The overlay is scheduled for technical review by the Jacksonville Planning Commission at 1 p.m. Thursday in the council chamber at City Hall.

The commission could issue a recommendation to the council Land Use and Zoning Committee.

The next steps are review at council at 5 p.m. June 11, Land Use and Zoning at 5 p.m. June 18 and back to council at 5 p.m. June 25.

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