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City drafting changes to land use rules

JACKSONVILLE -- The city of Jacksonville is drafting legislation to comply with a Florida Department of Community Affairs mandate capping developments that local business community members said would stifle economic development.

The legislation, scheduled for City Council review in December or January, will place maximum development thresholds on nonresidential land use amendments. The city already uses standards to measure the impacts of new commercial and industrial development on infrastructure, but may be the only local government in the state that has not made the standards part of its comprehensive plan.

"Other cities have maximums and they work through it," said Jacksonville Planning and Development Director Brad Thoburn, "but our system has always worked, too."

That was until state legislation passed in 2005 to measure the impacts of development that requires developers to provide a financially feasible formula for the necessary improvements to public infrastructure that will mitigate the impacts of proposed developments. The DCA's new secretary has interpreted that legislation to mean that the state agency must assume that the piece of land will be developed to the maximum use allowable in order to measure the maximum possible impacts of the development, said Rogers Towers PA land use attorney Wyman Duggan.

Thoburn said he agrees, for the most part, with the business community's concerns.

"Whatever we do has to be practical, it has to work and it can't force [developers] to have to go back and get a land use amendment," he said.

The DCA also already challenged 17 of the city's 22 most recently approved changes to the comprehensive plan's future land use map based on the city's lack of comprehensive plan standards. Those cases are now in administrative litigation.

"The planning department isn't the bad guy here, they're just reacting to the pressure from the DCA," said Duggan, who also is also a member of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce /Cornerstone Commercial Industrial Development Task Force.

The draft legislation limits development to 25 percent to 35 percent of the total site depending on the land use category. Grubb & Ellis/Phoenix Realty Group broker Doug Wendell said that although the mandate could affect all commercial developers, industrial users are particularly vulnerable because while other types of development can be multiple stories, industrial projects are almost always a single story, and therefore require a larger footprint.

The possible policy change comes at the same time as an increase in interest in the city's industrial market. For an industrial developer deciding between Jacksonville and other nearby ports, the mandate might tip the scale in a less restrictive market's favor, Wendell said. The new mandate also could lengthen the permitting stage of development. Land use map amendments require several public hearings and take about seven to nine months to complete.

The task force has drafted a letter to Mayor John Peyton and the city's planning department expressing its concerns over the legislation. It suggested that the city challenge the DCA's mandate because, in part, the DCA has no grounds to require the current land use categories to have specific numerical intensity maximums. The letter also argues that development maximums are unnecessary as open market conditions exist in most cases to create a natural constraint on development.

Local industrial developer J.J. Conners said he is optimistic that the city, DCA and the local business community will come to some sort of agreement.

"Developers recognize the need for a system that extracts dollars to account for the impacts of their developments and feel that the system would be more effective if it is based on project-specific impacts instead of broadly applying density/intensity maximums."


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Revised: February 10, 2010 .

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