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Controversial LaVilla townhome project back

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LaVilla project makes encore

By MATT GALNOR

The Times-Union

Plans to build $180,000 town homes in Jacksonville's LaVilla neighborhood are now heading back to the City Council, just six months after the council denied the project.

City Hall attorneys, though, have been asked to check if the proposal is coming back six months too soon.

The council in November voted 14-5 against the 32-unit project planned for two blocks off Jefferson Street between Union and Beaver streets.

Council rules require developers and others who have a bill voted down to wait at least a year before bringing it back, unless there's a "substantial change." The nearly $6 million project no longer asks for a $320,000 city grant, which developer Carlton Jones says is enough of a change.

But Councilman Reggie Fullwood, who represents the area and does not support the project, says the location and unit prices are the same, which Fullwood says is why the council voted it down in the first place.

"That hasn't changed, so I think they're going to have a challenge, if it can even be heard now," Fullwood said.

The bill will be introduced tonight and, if city attorneys allow it to be discussed in coming weeks, the earliest it could come for a vote would be next month.

The initial defeat of the bill included a struggle between Fullwood and the developers, Jones and partner Richard Danford. Danford filed a police report against Fullwood after Danford said Fullwood threatened him following a committee meeting.

Fullwood denies the allegation and no charges were filed.

The project is now back at the request of Councilwoman Glorious Johnson. Jones said Johnson approached him about trying the project again. Johnson did not return several messages seeking comment.

With the grant now off the table, the only public dollars sought would be a $200,000 affordable housing loan to build two models.

The deal does, however, include the city selling the land for $455,532 -- $4 per square foot and about half what the city paid to buy and clear the land. In November, some council members took issue with the price of the land, especially because the site is just a few blocks from the new Duval County Courthouse, scheduled to open in 2007.

"In that area, with the courthouse coming, I don't see a need to give that land away," said Councilman Jerry Holland, who voted against the project in November.

Councilman Warren Alvarez, who voted for the project last fall, said he'd want to take another look at the land cost.

Jones said he is only trying to bring a dimension to downtown housing that doesn't exist now. There is a market for the town homes, he said, and they would complement the high-end condos and market rate apartments now available as the downtown housing market warms up.

Jones called the November decision "emotional" and said he thinks if the project is judged solely on its merits, it will be approved.

Plans were originally filed in early 2003, but hearings were frequently delayed. During the delays, Jones and Fullwood traded terse letters, with both accusing the other of making the matter personal.

Though the plan passed three committees before Danford filed the police report, the proposal was turned down by the full council.

"I don't think it [vote] had a whole lot to do with the project," Jones said.

Danford, who is president of the Jacksonville Urban League, is still a partner in the project, but Jones said Danford will remain in the background if the proposal is heard again.

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I don't see what the big deal is. I think they should approve the project. The developer was right; there aren't enough townhomes to complement the high-rises. And I thought the city wanted to: 1) add alot of downtown housing and 2) rejuvinate LaVilla. So I wish they would approve it. That location needs this project.

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I agree, that area could use residential infill and towhomes seem to be ideal for that section of town. The urban townhome market is so under served that I'm seriously considering the possibility of doing a small project (3 units) myself. If land & construction cost work out just right, I'll live in one unit and sell the other two.

Anyways, it seems like councilmen are making this a personal matter instead of looking out for the best interest of the city.

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Is the DDA invloved with this? They seem like the type of group that would advocate for the project. BTW, where will your Lakelander Townhomes be located? Do you have a site? That sounds like a cool idea.

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I'm not for sure if the DDA is involved with the LaVilla project or not.

I've been looking for sites for a couple of months now. The one that I like most is a small 50'x100' lot on the SW corner of Duval & Liberty Streets, one block south of the Park at the Cathedral townhomes. The vacant lot is presently used for parking for Jaguar games, by its owner.

Right now, I'm developing preliminary floor plans & elevations too find out how much this might possibly cost and if I can afford it. I'm trying to come up with a plan, where the bottom floors can be easily converted to small retail or restaurant space, if need arises in the future.

If the numbers don't work financially, then I'll just delay the dream for a year or two and buy a condo to save up money, and then try again later.

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That's awesome. I wish more projects would be built around the Parks @ the Cathedral area. I also like the idea of ground floor retail. I always envisioned LaVilla to have one large private development, with a central plaza, stores, lofts and townhomes. Kinda like a smaller version of Cityplace in WPB.

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I wish they would have just left most of LaVilla alone instead of tearing down the whole neighborhood. I was shock to discover that Ashley Street, once had a scene like Beale Street in Memphis and was commonly called the "Harlem of the South" with blocks & blocks of Jazz and Blues Clubs. It would have really been an asset to the city if they would have restored that area instead of destroying it.

Anyway, I still see LaVilla slowing coming back to life, if this project is approved. If approved, there would be a continuous line of new urban infill development from the Ritz Theater block, to the new County courthouse complex. Here's brief info on the other the projects, if built, would create a walkable corridor in this part of LaVilla.

James Weldon Johnson Park

This project is already under construction. It involves turning a vacant city block (Jefferson, Ashley, Broad, & Church) into a park focusing on the history of the area. One of the last, but most well known Jazz Clubs from the segregation era "Govenor's Hall" is already in the process of being rebuilt. There are also plans to restore 3 shot gun houses on site, for museum purposes.

Ashley Oaks Mixed Use Complex

This mixed-use development at Ashley and Jefferson streets next to Clara White Mission & across the street from Govenor's Hall in La Villa, recently received final design approval. Plans show a three-story building with 8,161 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and two floors of one-bedroom apartments, comprising 10 units per floor. Administrative offices also are shown on the site. CWN Inc. is the developer. Ashley Oaks would site across the street from this proposed townhome development.

LaVilla Bistro

This 7,921sf restaurant, by Jax Casual Dining, at Beaver, Davis, Madison and Union streets in La Villa. Recently received final approval. The site is directly across the street from the Ritz and the 32 unit towhome development.

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Well never mind, it looks like the council couldn't get past its stubborness and personal feelings towards the developer. They refuse to even look at the project again. :angry:

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Council refuses to revisit LaVilla town home proposal

By MATT GALNOR

The Times-Union

On second thought, a proposal for $180,000 town homes in LaVilla won't be back in front of the Jacksonville City Council after all.

City attorneys and council President Lad Daniels said Tuesday the project did not have the "substantial change" needed to bring the proposal back in less than one year.

The LaVilla Square project, which included 32 town homes off Jefferson Street between Beaver and Union streets, was voted down 14-5 by the council six months ago. Council rules state projects cannot be reintroduced for one year, unless there's a substantial change.

The only change in the $6 million project proposal is the deletion of a $320,000 grant request for road and landscaping improvements. The grant barely came up during debate on the project last summer, as the council focused more on whether the location between two major streets was fit for residential use and the sale price of the land.

The city would have sold the land for $4 per foot -- about half what the city paid to buy and clear the land.

"I can make a substantial change, from $4 to $15," Councilman Warren Alvarez said.

Councilwoman Glorious Johnson had initially asked the bill be reintroduced, saying she thought the removal of the grant was a big enough change.

"Evidently, it's not enough to satisfy the law," Johnson said.

Carlton Jones, the developer for the project, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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That sucks. I'm getting really disappointed with the Council. Picky Picky Picky..... At least the other projects are working out. I hope the developer doesn't lose hope. I'm sure they'll eventually give the go ahead, once they get their way, of course.

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I also hope he doesn't give up, but I wouldn't blame him if he did. In development, time is money, and losing a year could really kill a project with the way construction costs are rising.

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