A bill that would change Jacksonville’s Downtown overlay code to allow self-storage facilities appears to be headed for withdrawal after months of neighborhood opposition.
The City Council Land Use and Zoning Committee voted 6-0 on July 19 to withdraw Ordinance 2021-0821 after the bill’s introducer, Council member Reggie Gaffney, pulled his support.
Gaffney filed the bill in November 2021 at the request of an Atlanta-based developer.
Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow partner Steve Diebenow is the attorney representing real estate company The Simpson Group, the developer.
Diebenow told the Council in June that the company was under contract to buy a Downtown Southbank property where it wants to build a self-storage center.
Residents and business owners on the Southbank and in neighboring San Marco fought the bill, filing a petition and sending Council members more than 120 emails in opposition.
That pushed Council, including Gaffney, to halt the process in June and vote 12-7 to re-refer the bill to the LUZ committee.
The property, bordered by Prudential Drive and Home Street, is near bb’s restaurant and Riverplace Boulevard where the city completed a road diet in 2019 by narrowing lanes for cars, building protected paths for bicyclists and made more space for runners and walkers.
“The area where this was intended to go is a prominent corner two blocks from the river and a storage unit is not an optimal use of that property,” San Marco Preservation Society President Lauren Carlucci told the committee July 19.
Other speakers said adding cargo and transport vehicles to the area would create a safety risk for pedestrians.
The full Council would have to approve a withdrawal.
Council member LeAnna Cumber, who represents the Southbank and San Marco, said allowing self-storage is against established Downtown overlay that took effect in 2019, and she worried it would harm investment and growth.
“I am proud that the San Marco community and Downtown residents came out in force to oppose blowing a hole through the Downtown overlay to allow for self storage units throughout Downtown,” she said in a text message after the vote.
“It was a bad plan from the beginning. If we want to grow Downtown we need to create walkable communities — safe streets for pedestrians and bicyclists where residents, restaurants and stores can thrive,” she said.
Cumber said the number of emails against the bill continued to come in during Council’s July 1-15 summer break.
Council voted to send the bill back to the LUZ committee despite that committee’s June 7 vote recommending approval.
Diebenow said June 7 that he approached Gaffney to file the bill after Cumber, who represents the Southbank and San Marco, declined to sponsor the legislation.
The move to change the overlay also was opposed by the Downtown Investment Authority, the Downtown Development Review Board and the city Planning and Development Department.
The DIA board recommended that if Council passed the bill, it should allow self-storage units only within 500 feet of the Downtown boundaries.
Diebenow drafted an amendment that the LUZ committee inserted into the bill to loosen that recommendation to say a self-storage center would be permitted if any portion of the building was within 500 feet of the boundary.
“Changing the entire overlay for one lobbyist who has a client that made a bad business decision is a colossally bad idea,” Cumber said June 10.
Linzee Ott is a DDRB member and past president of the San Marco Preservation Society.
She said self-storage does not align with the goals to make the core more “vibrant, equitable and active.”
The full Council likely will vote July 26 on the withdrawal.
If Council withdraws the bill, the developer could apply for a land use change to planned unit development instead of changing the entire Downtown overlay, which would affect both the Northbank and Southbank.
Council member Matt Carlucci, a San Marco resident and business owner, said he would “keep a keen eye out” to make sure the self-storage project does not return as a PUD.
“That would be a horrible waste of prime real estate in an area we’re trying to bring more people and more vibrancy for Downtown,” he said.