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September 30, 2014

J'ville planning panel sets boundaries of proposed new business district

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Posted: Friday, August 22, 2014 1:12 am | Updated: 1:23 am, Fri Aug 22, 2014.

JACKSONVILLE -- The Jacksonville Planning Commission on Thursday voted to establish the boundaries of a new business district, a move that will allow developers to build restaurants and shops where houses now stand.

The district encompasses about six blocks south of and across the street from Jacksonville State University’s football stadium. That street, West Mountain Street, forms the northern boundary of the district; its southern boundary is West Francis Street, while Woodward Avenue and Pelham Road form the western and eastern limits of the district. Included in the district are homes, university-owned apartments, at least two restaurants, and the restored Jacksonville Train Depot.

Kelly Ryan, secretary, said the plan originated with Jacksonville Industrial Development Board. It was crafted for the specific purpose of building unique shops and restaurants on West Mountain Street.

Business owners from the city’s Public Square attended the meeting and called on the commission to include the town’s oldest shopping hub in the new plan.

“I think it’s the right thing for our town,” said Bruce Edmiston, who owns a mini-mall in the square. “I don’t want to be left out. I don’t want you to limit the scope of this business district to that one area.”

The commission declined the request, with Ryan explaining that the developmental rules which would apply to the new district are incompatible with the existing structure at the square. For example, he said, in the new district, street parking is likely to be restricted, while the square is dependent on street parking.

Ryan said it may be appropriate later to develop a second special business district for the merchants on the square.

Another merchant on the square, Joe Donahue, said he spoke to the City Council about the district one year ago.

“I was told at that point that it was going to be on Mountain, but it would also butt up to where I was,” Donahue said. “This is much different than I thought it would be.”

Residents who own property on Mountain Street also spoke up in support of the new plan, but at least one added that city leaders hadn’t done enough to share their ideas with stakeholders.

“I want to see more involvement of property owners,” said Jerrod Brown, who owns property on West Mountain Street. “I don’t know anything because it’s all been under wraps.”

After developing the idea, the industrial board passed it on to the City Council, which began discussing it at meetings, originally calling the area an entertainment district.

In the entertainment district, council members said at the time, businesses would be allowed to sell beverages with liquor and patrons would be able to drink them outside, practices now prohibited in the city.

The council changed its name to special business district when the previous label, and the concept behind it, drew criticism from residents who believed the new district would attract more bars.

Council members countered by saying their goal was to attract specialty shops and independent restaurants, not add to the town’s night life.

Jacksonville City Planner Lynn Causey said in the meeting Thursday that the new site might include a decorative fountain, bricked storefronts, some housing such as loft apartments, and would be pedestrian friendly.

Ryan said the commission was asked to help with the process about three months ago, when three members were invited to sit on a special committee of the industrial board.

The commission’s next step, he said, will be developing requirements for the new district. These requirements will spell out things like how far back buildings can be built from the road, and which materials can be used on the outside of the building.

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