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Jax Daily Record Friday, Mar. 17, 201712:00 PM EST

Review board wants more urban feel for LaVilla apartments

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

When comments about a project at its first presentation to the Downtown Development Review Board include that it looks like a suburban design and “I’m underwhelmed,” it means there’s still some work to be done before the project receives final approval.

That’s what happened Thursday when TVC Development Inc., a Vestcor company, showed the conceptual design for Lofts of LaVilla on Monroe, a 108-unit apartment project on the block bounded by Adams, Davis, Lee and Monroe streets.

The site is in west Downtown between the Duval County Courthouse and Interstate 95.

An L-shaped building with five stories — parking, leasing office and retail on the ground floor with apartments on the floors above — faces a fenced and landscaped 118-space parking lot with the entrance on Adams Street.

Architect Jack Braxton with Group 4 Design said the project was designed to complement Vestcor’s Lofts at LaVilla, a 130-unit apartment project near the Prime Osborn Convention Center and Skyway station.

Construction began on that project in October.

“It will look similar to the first one, but it will have its own character,” Braxton said.

More than half of the site plan comprising a parking lot was questioned by board member Carol Worsham.

“It feels very suburban because of the amount of parking. It looks like it belongs on Baymeadows Road, not Adams Street,” she said.

Board member Rafael Caldera agreed with Worsham and said he’s concerned the design might set a precedent for future development.

“Small buildings with parking lots is not urban,” he said. “If we keep building like this, half of LaVilla will be parking.”

The streetscape design for the blocks facing the parking lot was questioned by board member Craig Davisson.

He objected to the fence installed on a short wall shown on the conceptual design.

“It’s underwhelming,” he said. “Try to be a little more creative than fences and trees. Try to go another step.”

Caldera suggested redesigning the parking lot frontage for a more “urban feel,” possibly a higher wall to block the view of the lot from the street.

The design will be brought back to the board for final approval at its meeting in April or May.

The business model for the project is to offer the apartments at affordable rates to attract people who make $29,000 a year or less for a single person, about 60 percent of the Florida median income.

“Our target is working people,” said TVC President Ryan Hoover.

Rents will be set at about $600 a month for a studio, about $700 a month for one bedroom and about $900 a month for two bedrooms, he said.

The $20 million project is partially financed by a $350,000 loan at zero percent interest from the Downtown Investment Authority and $325,000 from the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority.

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