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Jax Beach: High-rise backers form own group

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By Caren Burmeister

Shorelines staff writer

As a community group tries to stop high-rise condominiums from sprouting up along the beach, several Jacksonville Beach developers and real estate investors have formed a corporation to espouse the benefits of the oceanfront condos.

Thad Moseley and Chris Hionides formed Beaches Vision, a limited liability corporation, Sept. 7. Moseley said the group plans to educate residents about the city's building height rules that permit tall oceanfront condos, what those codes mean to the community and what they can accomplish.

Beaches Vision developed two months before the Nov. 2 election, when Jacksonville Beach voters will face a ballot with two competing and controversial building height amendments. One is a citizens initiative that would cap building height at 35 feet citywide; the other is a city-sponsored measure that would permit high-rises along the oceanfront but limit buildings west of Third Street to 35 feet.

If approved, they would become part of the city charter, meaning they couldn't be changed without a vote of the people.

While Moseley wouldn't confirm it, some residents are speculating that Beaches Vision or its members sponsored a telephone poll that is under way. According to several people who have been surveyed, many of the questions refer to the building height amendments and were asked in a way that highlights the high-rise condos' benefits.

The survey was conducted by American Public Dialogue, a Jacksonville firm that used to be chaired by Bruce Barcelo, a political consultant who specializes in polling and shaping public opinion on constitutional amendments.

Moseley refused to say whether Beaches Vision sponsored the poll.

Moseley said he couldn't identify how many members Beaches Vision has, but he said the group has received contributions from a wide number of people and interests.

"It's very much a work in progress," he said.

Beaches Vision will work to educate voters about the ways the city's present building height codes can benefit the community, Moseley said. That includes the property taxes the new condos are generating or will contribute in the future and the expanse of green space between the condos, which is required under a city formula that lets the developer exchange side yard space for extra building height.

For example, four oceanfront condos built since 2002 will generate about $1.6 million in annual property taxes, according to the 2004 tax roll published by the Duval County Property Appraiser's Office. Those condos are the Landmark, Eastwinds, Oceania and Oceanic condominiums.

A condo owner who has paid $1.2 million for a unit, which isn't uncommon for many of the luxury suites, can expect to pay about $24,000 in property taxes.

Beaches Vision "will do its very best to get that message across," Moseley said.

The group takes the opposite position from Beaches Watch Group, an organization of community activists who led a petition drive for the 35-foot building height amendment. The watch group formed a political action committee in the spring so it could raise money to promote its mission described as protecting the area's quality of life and environment.

The watch group's petition drive was a reaction to the rapid trend of oceanfront high-rises. There are 25 condo plans in the pipeline on or near the oceanfront. Four are under construction, the others are under development plan review or have recently been permitted.

Moseley and Hionides and other oceanfront property owners and developers recently filed a lawsuit asking the Duval County Supervisor of Elections to declare the 35-foot building height amendment illegal and remove it from the Nov. 2 ballot.

Their suit says the amendment violates the City Council's legislative authority, would alter the use of their land as it's currently zoned and cause "irreparable damage" to their property investments.

A court hearing took place on the motion for injunction Friday, after today'sShorelines deadline.

Moseley and Hionides were also on the 19-member citizens height study committee, which the City Council appointed to review building height limits and other growth controls and make a recommendation by Aug. 5.

Subsequently, the council approved its own amendment that would place the city's present building height rules on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Moseley emphasized that the council has revised the building height rules four times since 1999 to control the number of tall buildings in the city and create open space between high-rise oceanfront structures.

Last year, the council adopted a 35-foot height limit for almost all areas west of Third Street. In June, the council applied that 35-foot height limit to planned unit developments and the city's two redevelopment districts.

Jim Overby, a member of the Beaches Watch Group who participated in the recent telephone poll, is curious about who is sponsoring it. He said the questions were asked in a way that "was meant more to sway opinion than to measure public sentiment."

He and Darrell Shields, another Beaches Watch Group member who was surveyed, said the pollster asked them if certain information might change the way they voted on the amendments.

For example, the pollster asked questions such as: If you knew the condos would provide the city with thousands of dollars in property taxes, would that change the way you vote? If you knew developers had to create a lot of open space around the buildings in order to construct the high-rises, would that change the way you vote? If you knew the 35-foot building height amendment violated the property owners' rights, would that change the way you vote?

The pollster also asked how they felt about the Beaches Watch Group, its chairwoman, Sandy Golding, and which candidate they will choose as the next mayor.

Mayoral candidate Fland Sharp said he, too, was surveyed, as was his mother and a neighbor. Sharp said he did not commission the survey.

One of his political opponents, Bland Cologne, did commission a telephone poll in June to define the issues that mattered to residents. Based on a series of questions about development and oceanfront condos in Jacksonville Beach, Cologne determined that about 80 percent of those surveyed support the 35-foot building height referendum. He paid Wilson Research Strategies, an Oklahoma-based marketing research company with a Jacksonville office, about $6,500 for the poll.

Staff writer Caren Burmeister can be reached at (904) 249-4947, extension 21, or via e-mail at caren.burmeisterjacksonville.com.

This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stor..._16726005.shtml.

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doesn't 35ft seem a bit drastic? That's what... 7 stories max?

i'm not a big supporter of oceanfront highrises, but i disagree with initiatives like this.

I haven't been to Jax beach but in general i'd like to see more beach downtowns develop. Put 5-10 stories limit on oceanfront and buy up a lot of land for parkspace. then allow the taller structures further inland in a more urban environement.

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35ft is about 3 stories max! Jax Beach already has a height restriction limiting condo tower heights to around 15 stories. While I know a lot of residents would prefer their city to continue to maintain a small town beach atmosphere, I'm totally against an outside force changing the rules and development rights of people who have already paid millions for their land.

The only way, I would agree to the new height restriction is if the current land owners, of the projects proposed, were grandfathered in, or if city residents agree to pay the land owners market value for their property.

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i say the taller the merrier, besides highrises on the beach look baaaad ass, in fact i sometimes go to jax beach even when the waves are better other places because of the highrise feel. why did they intiate a height limit in the first place/whose idea was it?

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35ft is about 3 stories max!  Jax Beach already has a height restriction limiting condo tower heights to around 15 stories.  While I know a lot of residents would prefer their city to continue to maintain a small town beach atmosphere, I'm totally against an outside force changing the rules and development rights of people who have already paid millions for their land. 

The only way, I would agree to the new height restriction is if the current land owners, of the projects proposed, were grandfathered in, or if city residents agree to pay the land owners market value for their property.

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That was the issue and continues to be the issue with Johston Island in Atlantic Beach.

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That is what they are trying to do. They are trying to contain the high-rises to a limited area where they will be tolerated. Single- home dwellings are being forced out by the excessive high-rises. While I am not against high-rises by any means, I feel that in this situation, a comprimise is needed so that the beaches do not lose the small-town appeal.

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That is what they are trying to do. They are trying to contain the high-rises to a limited area where they will be tolerated. Single- home dwellings are being forced out by the excessive high-rises. While I am not against high-rises by any means, I feel that in this situation, a comprimise is needed so that the beaches do not lose the small-town appeal.

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Jax Beach already has this in place. However, the Citizen's Watch Group (started by a lady who doesn't even live on the beach) wants the 35ft limit to blanket the entire city and force this restriction on people who stand to lose millions of dollars on the value of their land.

The character of the beach communities will remain, regardless of whether a part of Jax Beach becomes more urban or not. In the end, after this decision is made, enhancing the architectural quality & layout of the buildings being built there (low-rise & high-rise) should be made a priority. Because right now, there's some pretty bad looking buildings, in both categories, receiving building permits in Jax Beach.

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Jax Beach already has this in place.  However, the Citizen's Watch Group (started by a lady who doesn't even live on the beach) wants the 35ft limit to blanket the entire city and force this restriction on people who stand to lose millions of dollars on the value of their land.

The character of the beach communities will remain, regardless of whether a part of Jax Beach becomes more urban or not.  In the end, after this decision is made, enhancing the architectural quality & layout of the buildings being built there (low-rise & high-rise) should be made a priority.  Because right now, there's some pretty bad looking buildings, in both categories, receiving building permits in Jax Beach.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

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how stupid is that. <_<

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Thank God you are only building "sim" cities ... high rises belong in the city not at the beach! When shadows cover up neighboring houses until noon and the beach from noon on, its time to say enough! Except for being a great break water during title storms, high rises dont do much for beach neighborhoods.

High rises on the coast also bring a population density that is down right dangerous. All you have to do is look at Orange Beach Alabama , or Pensacola Beach to see the error of building too high too close to surf.

High rises should be built in the core of down town areas that have the infrastructure, and the existing transportation to handle large populations not on sand!

My opinion. Since these pending monsters are being built on the beach I have lived and surfed at for 30 years I feel like I have the right and obligation to speak up.

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Thank God you are only building "sim" cities ... high rises belong in the city not at the beach! When shadows cover up neighboring houses until noon and the beach from noon on, its time to say enough! Except for being a great break water during title storms, high rises dont do much for beach neighborhoods.

High rises on the coast also bring a population density that is down right dangerous.  All you have to do is look at Orange Beach Alabama , or Pensacola Beach to see the error of building too high too close to surf.

High rises should be built in the core of down town areas that have the infrastructure, and the existing transportation to handle large populations not on sand!

My opinion. Since these pending monsters are being built on the beach I have lived and surfed at for 30 years I feel like I have the right and obligation to speak up.

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There's nothing wrong with voicing your opinion, everyone has a right. However, IMO, what is occuring at Jax Beach compared to Orange Beach, Pensacola Beach, Miami Beach, Daytona Beach, etc. is completely different, in the fact that the projects being constructed in the other communities are as much as two to three times taller than what's currently allowed in Jax Beach.

With what's currently allowed, I don't think density is an issue either. Developers could easy build blocks and blocks of rowhouses and townhouses, with the 35ft height limit, thus still blocking views, creating bland boxes, and stuffing more people in, east of 3rd St. So, IMO, the strict height limit proposed isn't the best idea either.

The city is currently undergoing a natural transition from what was once a sleepy run down beach community into a more urban waterfront destination. Not only are condo projects popping up on the beach, but the CBD is also seeing several new office/retail oriented projects being planned as well. Whether anyone agrees with it or not, its evolving into the CBD for the entire beach area from Mayport to Ponte Vedra. Its very similar with what has happened in Riverside and what's currently happening in Springfield.

With land prices, east of 3rd, rapidly rising, there's little chance that it will remain the same place you have lived and surfed at for the past 30 years. This is why I believe, at this point, a compromise is best. This compromise could come in the form of height limits allowing for projects like The Metropolitan (6 or 7 stories), or allowing taller buildings in a section of town, will restricting them in another.

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The character of the beaches could be preserved by enforcing quality architectural standards and zoning to preserve views. The character could also be enhanced by forcing developers to extend the boardwalk through their properties, as well as being more pedestrian friendly when it comes to fronting 1st Street.

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