Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Long-Timers Fight Hotel Residents, Builder in Costly War over Project

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Long-Timers Fight Hotel Residents, Builder in Costly War over Project

Article excerpt

It has taken Charlie Dixon's family $100,000 in lawyer fees to not have a nine-story hotel built near their Jacksonville homes.

And the hard part could just be starting.

A dispute over a hotel and office complex planned off Butler Boulevard has mushroomed into the mother of backyard zoning disputes, a battle that's financially punishing neighbors, the developer and taxpayers -- and could ultimately be decided by the Florida Supreme Court.

"I've been in the real estate business 30 years. This is the most appropriate place for this kind of development . . . that I have ever seen. And this is the biggest surprise," said Duke Steinemann, the developer who received city approval to build a 15-acre complex three years ago this month.

The project hasn't started yet, and this week the state's 1st District Court of Appeal decided Jacksonville's city planners were wrong when they approved Steinemann's plan for property near Butler and San Pablo Road.

The three-member appeals panel ruled the city had no right to allow a hotel on the site, because the city's growth-management plans limit that property to only a few zonings, none of which permit hotels. In doing that, they rejected the city's argument that a planner could interpret appropriate uses, and said instead the case hinged on the simple question of whether the zonings spelled out by ordinance for that property permit a hotel.

A city lawyer yesterday promised to pursue the case until "a final decision" is reached, an apparent commitment to a new round of appeals that will raise costs on all sides.

Each side sees a lot to lose.

"Our family's lived here for 60 years. . . . This is our way of life," said Dixon, a builder whose family has three homes on Dixie Landing Drive, a tiny tree-shrouded road that trails off from San Pablo to the Intracoastal Waterway. Two more houses are planned.

The complex Steinemann plans, called San Pablo Place, would be west of the Dixons on property now owned by the Davis family, principal owners of the Winn Dixie grocery chain. Davis representatives said when the project was proposed that they carefully screened potential builders, and chose Steinemann partly because he would build a top-quality project. The complex would also include a 150,000-square-foot office complex and two minor buildings for small retailers.

Steinemann, who said he would buy one house behind the complex as his own, argued the hotel would be a four-star operation. "I'm very interested in being a good neighbor to the folks on the Intracoastal," he said. "I have never had a zoning challenge in my career before. Not one."

But Dixon and his neighbors were alarmed by the height of the building -- 90 feet -- and said the hotel and its bar and restaurant would bring around-the-clock activity, lights and noise to the edge of their quiet enclave. …

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