NB Community Development Board Rejects 500 Atlantic Development
The Neptune Beach Community Development Board voted unanimously to reject a proposed apartment, hotel and retail development at the site of the former Neptune Beach Kmart store in the face of overwhelming opposition from the community, will next be considered by the City Council.
A crowd of more than 700 people packed the Fletcher High School auditorium Wednesday night for the special meeting of the Neptune Beach Community Development Board held specifically for consideration of the project known as 500 Atlantic. The developers propose to construct 175 apartments and a 74-room boutique hotel on the site of the former Kmart store.
The applicant, TriBridge Residential based in Atlanta, presented information they say shows that they meet all the criteria for a Planned Unit Development, or PUD, to be approved by the city. TriBridge representative Katherine Mosley said that the apartment complex would be 70 percent one bedroom and 30 percent two bedroom apartments. The density is calculated at 11 units per acre. A PUD in a C-3 zoning district allows 17 units per acre under the city’s code.
Mosley said the anticipated occupancy is 1.4 residents per unit. The company is also planning a public parking garage and access to Ish Brandt park, which is just south of the proposed development.
Wyman Duggan, an attorney with Rogers Towers who is representing the property owner and the developer, said that the proposed project is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan. According to data presented by Duggan, the project will not increase traffic congestion or negatively affect property values in the nearby residential neighborhood of Neptune by the Sea. He said that analysis presented in an affidavit from an expert witness shows that the apartment complex would generate substantially fewer vehicle trips than allowed by code, and fewer than were generated by Kmart when it was open.
But there were some parts of the plan that were not fully fleshed out. “The plan is two weeks old,” Mosley said in answer to multiple questions. The developers have not offered any specific drawings or elevation plans showing how the development would look under the most recent proposal.
The developers said their plan would improve drainage and bring stormwater mitigation into compliance as is required by the city’s code. They said that the plan will not overburden the city’s sanitary sewer system, but improvements would be made in that system as well.
The majority of those attending the meeting were Neptune Beach residents opposed to the development. During the period for public comment, the organizers of the coordinated effort to oppose the project presented data they said showed that the development was not consistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan or future land use development map. They also expressed a great deal of skepticism about the developer’s data concerning traffic. A recent traffic study cited by the opponents showed that 36,000 cars per day currently travel through the intersection of Atlantic and Third Street, and the new development could add as many as 400 cars in the area, according to the opponents.
They also challenged the unit density calculations, because the developer has counted both 500 Atlantic and 527 Atlantic when determining their number of units per acre. The 527 Atlantic parcel is already occupied by Lucky’s grocery store and several other retail establishments, and that property will not be redeveloped.
Another concern was public safety and calls for service to the property. Neptune Beach Police Chief Ricky Pike told the Community Development Board that he would expect to have to hire two additional police officers to meet an anticipated increase in traffic and calls for service. The department is already stretched thin, he said, and traffic accidents have increased 30 percent in the area in the three years since Kmart closed. He also said there has been only one fewer call for service in the area since the store was shuttered.
After the period for public comments, Duggan said that if the developer proved that they met all requirements outlined in the Comprehensive Plan, that they were “entitled” to be approved for the development. But the Neptune Beach municipal code does not specify any condition under which a special exception must be granted to a developer for a PUD (Sect. 27-244).
After five hours of presentations and debate, the Community Development Board voted 6-0 to reject the developer’s proposal. The Neptune Beach City council will consider the proposal in a special meeting August 13th at 6:00 p.m. That meeting will also be held at the Fletcher High School auditorium to accommodate an anticipated large crowd.