September 8, 2008
Scenic View Traded for Warehouse Stew Industrial Projects Encroach on Residential Areas
By TIA MITCHELL
The Flamingo Lake RV Resort on Jacksonville's Northside is built around a spring-fed lake with a sandy beach and bass ready for catching.
But what lies just beyond the tree line - or what could - troubles Mike Fisher, the resort's marketing director and a part owner.
A few months ago, the Army Corps of Engineers notified Flamingo Lake that the owners of property next door planned to develop 317 acres into up to 5.5 million square feet of warehouses.
The development proposed by North Jax Investment Group would require a zoning change from low-density residential to light industrial.
It represents a growing trend in Jacksonville.
As the housing market soured, developers began to look for new uses for property zoned for residential development. They began applying to rezone to light industrial, paving the way for warehouses and other commercial construction.
New activity at Jacksonville's port, including new terminals, are expected to provide new opportunities for such businesses.
Land like that near Flamingo Lake, which is just off Interstate 295 near Lem Turner Road, is attractive because it would be easily accessible for trucks that pick up containers and other items unloaded at the new terminals near the Dames Point bridge.
Opponents worry about increased truck traffic and the noise of around-the-clock activity.
"Our first impression was we feared for the worst," Fisher said. "There is a lot of precedence of industrial sites opening near or on top of RV resorts and it's really the kiss of death."
Brad Thoburn, director of the city's planning and development department, said the volume of property zoned as residential likely would have outpaced demand at least short-term. The port expansion allows property owners to consider new uses for their land, he said.
City Councilman and executive director of the Northeast Florida Builders Association Daniel Davis said it makes sense to let the market dictate trends, and that port expansion is at the forefront.
"You are going to have so much distribution space needed to handle the containers and cargo that are coming in," Davis said, adding the trend will likely hold for the next 10 years.
But Mike Saylor, Thoburn's predecessor as planning director, has been hired by Flamingo Lake as a consultant. He believes the city is taking steps backward by allowing warehouses to be built next to houses.
NEED MAY BE OVERSTATED
Until this year, there was usually some type of transitional land between the two, Saylor said, such as multi-family housing, light commercial or office buildings.
He said property owners and developers are overstating the need for additional warehouse space to accommodate port expansion. There is plenty of land already zoned for such enterprises that are closer to the river and should be developed first, Saylor said.
"I don't know if enough analysis has gone into it. It's a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction," he said.
Davis said he weighs the merits of each development individually and usually defers to the wishes of the district council member for the property in question. Such was the case in the debate over Alta Lakes Commerce Park, a development proposed off Alta Drive.
The previous designation of the land was for 650 houses, but the owner petitioned to build 2.2 million square feet of warehouses. Those living in nearby subdivisions protested.
The Planning Department recommended approval, however it worked with both sides to help iron out a compromise to keep trucks and other traffic off Alta Drive, which connects several neighborhoods to Florida 9A.
Once the developer agreed to that, the project gained the support of Councilman Ray Holt, the district representative. Davis said Holt's approval helped the plan gain his acceptance, too. The whole council approved the rezoning and the plan is moving forward.
BOUNDARIES, BUFFERS SOUGHT
Davis said the North Jax Investment Group development has agreed to build new access roads to keep warehouse traffic away from existing neighborhoods and there would be a quarter-mile land buffer between the development and neighborhoods to the west.
Flamingo Lake is asking for an additional 200-foot-wide vegetation buffer in addition to the wetlands and trees that already divide the two properties. Also requested is an earthen berm at least 12 feet high and a 10-foot fence on top of that to block the view of whatever is built.
"We have a great venue here for the community to enjoy," Fisher said. "It would just be a shame for our business to suffer so much that we have to close our doors or, even worse, go industrial."[email protected], (904) 359-4425
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