LUZ Committee endorses rezoning for Lofts at Southbank

The vote was 4-3 over objections of neighbors about the mixed-used development’s inclusion of self-storage.

  • By Ric Anderson
  • | 8:45 p.m. April 16, 2024
  • | 4 Free Articles Remaining!
A conceptual design shows the northeast view of the Lofts at Southbank. The site is at 1004 Hendricks Ave., on the southwest corner of Prudential Drive and Hendricks Avenue.
A conceptual design shows the northeast view of the Lofts at Southbank. The site is at 1004 Hendricks Ave., on the southwest corner of Prudential Drive and Hendricks Avenue.
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A Jacksonville City Council committee followed the recommendation of the Downtown Development Review Board on April 16 by approving a rezoning request for a Southbank mixed-use development that has drawn strong opposition from neighbors for including four floors of self-storage.

The Land Use and Zoning Committee voted 4-3 in favor of the rezoning to Planned Unit Development for the Lofts at Southbank, a proposed 10-story complex that would include commercial, retail and restaurant space in addition to self-storage. Also included would be four floors of residential units, including affordable housing. 

Committee Chair Kevin Carrico voted in favor, as did members Reggie Gaffney Jr., Rory Diamond and Rahman Johnson. Ken Amaro, Raul Arias and Joe Carlucci voted no.

A conceptual design shows the northwest view of the Lofts at Southbank.

The committee’s vote came a week after the DDRB voted 7-1 to recommend approval of the rezoning with several conditions, including that a minimum of 8,500 square feet of the ground-floor space be devoted to retail and restaurants and the hours of self-storage access would be limited to 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Linzee Ott, the board’s vice chair, cast the no vote after expressing concern that allowing the rezoning would open the door to more self-storage projects Downtown. 

The rezoning approved by the LUZ included the conditions attached by the DDRB.

The committee’s action came after several residents expressed concerns about the development planned on the site of a closed restaurant at Prudential Drive and Hendricks Avenue. Other neighbors showed up to register opposition to the project but did not speak about it, while two individuals indicated support for it. Several committee members said they had received more than 150 emails from residents in opposition. 

Echoing a point made by the DDRB staff in recommending against the rezoning, neighbors said self-storage was not an allowed property use under the Downtown overlay of zoning regulations. They also said self-storage was not needed at the site due to the proximity of existing facilities, including one described as being 2,500 feet away. 

Neighbors questioned the safety of putting residential units above storage units, citing news reports of fires breaking out in storage facilities and of illegal weapons and drugs being found in them.

The project includes four floors of residential units above the storage.

A site plan for the Lofts at Southbank project at 1004 Hendricks Ave.

“Do you really want people who need affordable housing to be forced to live on top of 600 self-storage units?” DeVon Hardy said, adding that the project was “demeaning to families who qualify for affordable housing and deserve safe housing.”

Steve Diebenow, a representative of the applicant, said the building would be constructed of steel and concrete and would have fire sprinklers throughout. He said CubeSmart, which would operate the self-storage units, maintains restrictions on items that can be stored in their facilities.

Responding to a question from Johnson, Diebenow said the project would not be financially feasible without the self-storage. 

Carlucci said the PUD served only to restrict allowable property uses Downtown while allowing a restricted use – self-storage. Carlucci is the District 5 Council member, whose district includes the project site. 

“It limits the height of the building. So what? We don’t have any height limits for this property. It limits the number of residential units. So what? We don’t have a limit on units,” he said. 

Committee member Raul Arias said allowing self-storage on the Southbank wasn’t in line with other improvements the city is either carrying out Downtown or is considering, such as investing in an upgraded stadium for the Jacksonville Jaguars and moving the jail out of Downtown.

“This is not moving the city forward,” he said.  

A DDRB staff report on the Lofts at Southbank describes the project as a 10-story building with ground floor retail, office, restaurant or other commercial space, self-storage on the third through sixth floors and multifamily residential units on the top four floors.

Diamond said the project advanced several formal strategies for Downtown development, including bringing new jobs and food and beverage options. 

With the vote, the rezoning advances to the City Council.

Guy Parola, the Downtown Investment Authority’s director of operations and a professional planner, said the staff was not sure “what the PUD accomplishes other than hiding self-storage.” 

The zoning is only one hurdle the developer is facing for the project.

Last week, the DDRB deferred a vote on the conceptual design of the building, the first of two steps in the DDRB’s approval process for Downtown projects. The second step is final design approval. Unlike the board’s vote on rezonings, its decisions on design approvals are final.

City documents list the developer as Jacksonville-based Vestcor through Lofts at Southbank Ltd. The architect is Group 4 Design Inc. The contractor is Summit Contracting Group.

Owners are listed as G.I.S. Holdings of Atlanta, A. Walter Hirshberg Family Trust and Karen Hirshberg.

This is the third time the project has been brought forth. 

A site context map for the Lofts at Southbank.

It surfaced in 2022, when the Council considered legislation that would have allowed self-storage Downtown, where it is not a permitted use under the Downtown overlay of zoning regulations.

The Council voted unanimously to withdraw the legislation, and the project was taken off the table.

It came back in 2023 with a retail component. The Council voted 9-9, with Diamond absent while serving military duty, on rezoning the project.

After a disagreement between the city and the development team over whether a tie Council vote amounted to a rejection, the development team sought mediation and was given an opportunity to submit the proposal again as long as it contained significant changes. 

The DDRB staff recommended denial of the rezoning and conceptual design, citing the overlay’s prohibition of self-storage and noting that several storage operations are within a short distance of the project site. Diebenow and the developers argue that self-storage of personal property is allowed in residential buildings.

Matt Carlucci, who attended the LUZ meeting as a nonvoting Council member, urged the committee to protect the Downtown zoning overlay. That overlay was approved in 2019 in a unanimous Council vote.

A reason for the overlay, he said, is that decision-makers and the community decided Downtown property should be dedicated to residences, businesses or other uses that help attract people to the area.

“You can’t do that storing TVs and couches and stoves or whatever you’re storing,” he said. “It’s a waste of space.”



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