After more than eight months of delays and LaVilla community advocates lobbying for design changes, the Downtown Development Review Board signed off on First Coast Energy’s plan to build a two-story Daily’s gas station with a Bold City Brewery and restaurant in LaVilla.
The board voted 5-2 on Aug. 24 to award the project final approval after a four-hour meeting where the debate focused on five Downtown overlay code deviations First Coast Energy requested to build the gas station on the 1.4-acre block at Bay and Broad streets.
Board members Christian Harden and Trevor Lee were absent for the vote.
Final approval was delayed in July after Mayor Donna Deegan and City Council member Jimmy Peluso called for a one-month hold on the final decision and called for First Coast Energy to solicit more input from the LaVilla Community.
The board voted unanimously to approve an exception to the zoning code approved by Council in 2019 allowing fueling stations in LaVilla by exception if they part of a mixed-use development.
The review board operates as the planning commission for Downtown.
“We cannot deny that progress has been made since we first saw this. I do not think this project is perfect, but I don’t know if any project ever is,” board Secretary Gary Monahan said.
“I do believe the addition of uses to this neighborhood will create net benefit.”
The board’s approval came despite continued objections from individuals and groups working to revitalize the historic neighborhood and Downtown advocates concerned about a gas station’s effect on pedestrian safety and accessibility plans in LaVilla.
Adrian Swanigan, who grew up in LaVilla and has been involved with the city Downtown Investment Authority’s LaVilla Heritage Trail and Gateways Committee, criticized First Coast Energy for not meeting with the committee as a whole.
Nonprofit advocacy group Scenic Jacksonville, which has worked with the DIA on Downtown parks planning, objected to the number of code deviations.
Peluso held a town hall meeting Aug. 10 with the developers and LaVilla community members to discuss the project.
First Coast Energy lobbyist Jordan Elsbury of Ballard Partners said the developer met individually with Ennis Davis, American Planning Association Florida Chapter vice president of membership and a certified planner working in LaVilla, and others.
The two dissenting board members, Linzee Ott and Frederick Jones, said the design changes made since January were not substantial enough to address the board’s concerns about the project looking “too suburban” and not keeping with the spirit of the design code in LaVilla.
Ott said she was supportive of the Jacksonville-based businesses Daily’s and Bold City Brewery’s use of the site.
“I also take rules very seriously. I like rules. I think rules matter,” Ott said.
“This community created a set of rules for itself in the form of zoning ordinances and the Downtown overlay … and these five deviations are too substantial in nature and too great of a departure from Downtown’s codified overlay for me to support this project.”
Jones said First Coast Energy’s inability to produce building material samples showed the project was not ready for final review.
First Coast Energy’s design would bring a two-story Daily’s with 16 fueling stations, a minimum 5,000-square-foot restaurant and Bold City, and a rooftop bar to the busy intersection of Downtown.
Daily’s will have to obtain building permits and other city approvals before it can break ground.
The site receives traffic from Interstate 95 via Forsyth Street, entering Downtown from Five Points or Riverside/Avondale via Broad Street, or are leaving Downtown to Interstates 10 and 95 via Bay Street or into Brooklyn/Riverside via Jefferson Street.
Brian Miller, owner of Bold City Brewery, told the board in March that his company is partnering with First Coast Energy to operate a microbrewery and the restaurant on the second floor and the rooftop bar that will replace its existing tap room on Bay Street in the Elbow Entertainment District.
First Coast Energy paid almost $3.3 million in August 2020 for the 1.4-acre block bounded by Forsyth, Jefferson, Bay and Broad streets.
The company paid nearly $2.4 million for five parcels that include the site of a closed bank drive-thru and $900,000 for the land where the Kartouche nightclub once stood.
First Coast Energy bought the 0.23-acre nightclub site from Law Building LLC.
It bought the bank site and four vacant parcels, totaling 1.17 acres, from lawyer Mark L. Rosenberg.