1534 Oak Street – boon or boondoggle?

On September 21st, 2010, the Land Use and Zoning Committee voted to approve the design proposal for 1534 Oak Street amidst wide sweeping criticism from both sides of the aisle.  The Riverside Avondale Preservation Society, especially, has been very concerned with various aspects of the design and PUD application, despite the fact that the proposed lot has stood vacant for more than 2 years and the previous structure that had stood there was condemned and considered a blight on the neighborhood.

current site of development

The design of the building, though still conceptual, has cause a stir in the community – some for some against….mostly against.  I’d really like to be impartial and subjective, but that’s just not me.  So…..

site plan courtesy of design cooperative

As you can see from the site plan above, the site is very oddly shaped.  Being formed by the intersection of Margaret and Oak Streets, in Riverside, you’ve got a wedge shaped triangle with a very tight angle at the corner.  Now, in order to build on a site like this and change the view currently being seen in the first image above, you’re forced to almost completely build out the site, which immediately goes against most zoning ordinances, especially in a historic zoning overlay.

You can imagine almost all of the negative criticism comes from the Riverside Avondale Preservation crowd, being the progenitors of the historic overlay.  This really gets under my craw, because, in my not so humble opinion, RAP has no business commenting on new designs and new development.  Organizations like RAP have a purpose, and it’s even expressed in their name – PRESERVATION. And what is preservation?  It is the preserving or maintaining of something that is old and/or valuable.  And the historic architectural fabric of Riverside is valuable.  It represents a body of architectural work at a pivotal time in Jacksonville’s history and we must preserve that historical record.  THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MODERN DEVELOPMENT!

image courtesy of design cooperative

The above image shows a design that is very modern (looking west from Oak Street).  The wedge shape of the site has determined the building shape.  This design, though very modern, will fit perfectly within the existing architectural fabric of Riverside.  How, you say?  I’m glad you asked.  Let me tell you.

image courtesy of design cooperative

In 1902, when Jacksonville was in the process of rebuilding after the Great Fire of 1901, local architects were given almost a clean slate with which to remake the city.  They did not take cues from the past, they didn’t go with what was “historically” relevant at the time (as we’re forced to do now).  They went with a modern style, a style that was a break with the traditions of the day.

The Prairie Style (or Prairie School), pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright, and brought to Jacksonville by Henry Klutho was a new architectural expression of it’s day and it has withstood the test of time for more than 100 years.

While other architectural styles are expressed in the Riverside Avondale neighborhoods, like Queen Anne, or Craftsman (another modern style of it’s day), or Mediterranean, or any of the other popular styles of the day, the bulk of new construction of the day was in a modern style.  For a organization like RAP to force modern construction to copy these architectural styles is a disgrace to the intentions and aspirations of the architects who designed and constructed the very buildings RAP is tasked with preserving.

Architecture should be a representation of the very best of current technologies and techniques.  Obviously, if a homeowner makes a choice to build a period home, that is their freedom and should be allowed as long as the structure meets with current building code.  If that same homeowner decides to build a modern home in a modern style, that also should be allowed as long as the structure meets with current building code.

Getting back to the big critiques about the design refer to scale and height.  This is a three story structure being constructed adjacent to a 2 story structure, across the street from a four story structure and across the street from another 3 story structure.  The majority of the immediately surrounding architecture are much larger and more imposing than the few commercial buildings on the Margaret strip (mossfire, o’brothers, larry’s, etc).  So, obviously this claim is baseless and silly.

The other big critique are setbacks and parking.  For me this is just a last ditch effort to try and get some support for the argument.  This is Riverside.  It’s a WALKABLE community.  There is plenty of parking currently and there will always be plenty of parking because you can park 2-3 blocks away from your intended destination and walk with very little difficulty even in the rain (I know because I live about 6 blocks from the 5 Points where this development will sit).  The sidewalk, as is, is barely wide enough for two people to walk side by side.  The development as proposed provides, I believe, an 11′ wide sidewalk……yeah, argument killed, moving on.

You can judge for yourself whether or not the design of this building meets with your aesthetic sensibilities, but that has little to do with if this development should be allowed or not.  The development makes significant improvements to the site and surrounding neighborhood.  The development will bring new jobs, new commerce and office space to the neighborhood as well as a restaurant and roof top bar.  Essentially this new development will be pumping day and night, not just one or the other.  This is a boon for Riverside – an important development that should be unanimously supported by my fellow residents.  Unless of course you want to continue to stare at the sand filled empty lot that we’ve had to look at for the last 2+ years?

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About Jeremiah

Birth: April 6 - Upstate New York Education: Savannah College of Art and Design Bachelor of Fine Art - 2003 Masters of Architecture - 2003 Member AIA National since 2004 Member AIA Florida since 2004 Member AIA Jacksonville since 2004 Member Emerging Design Professionals Jacksonville since 2006 Emerging Design Professional President 2009-2010 View all posts by Jeremiah

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