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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jan. 23, 201812:29 PM EST

Plan to build Southbank residential tower lands in circuit court

Owner of Eight Forty One building asks court to review neighboring project.
by: David Cawton Associate Editor

The fight over a new Downtown Southbank residential tower has landed in the 4th Judicial Circuit Court. 

GV-IP Owner LLC, which owns 841 Prudential Drive, has asked Judge Waddell Wallace III to issue a writ of certiorari requesting the City of Jacksonville to defend the Downtown Development Review Board’s decision to allow a 13-story residential tower to be built on 2.9 acres along Prudential Drive between GV-IP’s property and the Acosta Bridge. 

In December, the DDRB upheld a decision it made last summer to allow Ventures Development Group to move forward with the project after several failed appeals to block it. 

The motion in circuit court is likely the last time GV-IP can appeal the decision. 

GV-IP owns the former Aetna Building, now referred to as Eight Forty One, through Boca Raton-based IP Capital Partners LLC. 

“Clearly, we decided to take the legal route because we felt like that was the best option for us,” IP Capital Partners President Jason Isaacson said Tuesday. 

“We felt like the letter of the law was not followed and continues not to be followed,” he said.  

Isaacson hinted in December that the group would take the matter to court, saying the project would increase traffic and potentially harm rental rates. The project was granted deviations, including increasing the building height from 60 to 150 feet and reducing the number of parking spaces.

“In this situation, you’re looking at a project that doesn’t match the dirt it sits on,” said Isaacson. 

The petition for a writ of certiorari essentially instructs a judge to offer an opinion, at his or her discretion, on a lower courts, or in this case, a governing body’s decision. The DDRB is an agent of the city, which is why it has been named as a party. 

According to the 1,352-page document filed Jan. 16, GV-IP claims the DDRB’s decision should be overturned because it failed to provide GV-IP with procedural due process when Ventures announced it was changing its building height from 190 feet to 150 feet; that Ventures didn’t meet the essential requirements of the law; and because of competent substantial evidence. 

GV-IP argues the DDRB compounded the error because it did not direct staff to re-analyze the project based on the new building height nor did it give GV-IP a “reasonable opportunity” to respond to the change. 

The group is being represented by Holland & Knight attorney Daniel Bean, who could not immediately be reached for comment. 

City Assistant General Counsel Craig Feiser said the city had no comment on the pending litigation. He would not confirm whether the city had been served or when it planned to respond. 

Ventures’ proposal, introduced in June, includes a 13-story tower with 281 apartments, a 53,000-square-foot Southbank Riverwalk expansion and public and private parking.

About 323 parking spaces would be built into the structure’s first three stories, with an additional 70 surface-lot spaces built around it. 

Ventures plans to purchase the property this year from South Shore Riverpointe Holdings LLC. 

The plan needed five administrative deviations from the zoning code to move forward. Those allow Ventures to exceed the allowed building height limit of 60 feet, reduce the amount of parking, and alter landscape and waterfront design requirements and required setbacks from Prudential Drive. 

Venture’s original plan put the building’s height at 190 feet and included 300 apartments, but was later reduced to 150 feet 2 inches and 281 apartments. 

Isaacson said the building will block views of the St. Johns River, which he claims are protected under Florida law. 

“It could cause good harm to our real estate, the rents we’re able to secure,” he said. “There’s a reason the 60-foot height limit exists, and they’ve simply ignored that.” 

The circuit court case does not list Ventures as a party since GV-IP is asking for an opinion on the city’s decision. 

Calls to Ventures’ attorney, Steve Diebenow of Driver, McAfee, Peek & Hawthorne, were not immediately returned. 

Diebenow previously said he expected the fight to continue through the legal system. 

GV-IP has protested the development since it was approved 4-1 in June by the DDRB. 

The group then filed an appeal with the Downtown Investment Authority in August, but failed to sway any member except Chair Jim Bailey.  

In November, Ventures defended its project at the City Council Land Use and Zoning Committee during the next step of the appeals process. 

The committee didn’t give an opinion and instead sent the project back to the DDRB with instructions to review all five deviations separately and offer a final decision on behalf of the city. 

The deviations were to be reviewed independently, taking into consideration the corresponding statutes in the zoning code. The board had to consider how similar deviations have been evaluated against the regulations outlined in the Downtown zoning overlay, and determine whether they met the standard for approval based on that statute.

The DDRB heard the appeal Dec. 12, voting 6-1 to approve the parking deviation and 5-2 to approve the building height deviation. It then voted 5-2 to approve the overall group of deviations. 

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