Park Place is moving forward!

We’re excited about Park Place, a 133 unit luxury apartment complex in the heart of San Marco.  This project is exactly the type of development envisioned by the community through San Marco by Design. It is forward looking as San Marco adapts its codes to meet resiliency needs, it is an equitable application of the zoning codes, and it adds critical density to support the local businesses.  

Envision Design teamed up with Harbert Construction of Birmingham, local architectural firm Group 4, and Cornerlot Properties to carry out SMBD’s vision in San Marco.  

The project is located at the south end of San Marco Square on 2 parcels of property owned by a South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church.  We have a special connection to SJPC since our 3 children attended preschool there and Laura served on the Advisory Board and chaired the annual fundraiser.  The church, like many over the last several decades, saw declining membership and needed to sell off a portion of its property.  Harbert Realty negotiated to buy the property at a price that would allow the church to remain viable, plus it agreed to provide parking for church needs.  

In addition to our client’s and the church’s needs there were several other interested groups-  The San Marco Preservation Society, the San Marco Merchants’ Association, and a grassroots opposition group.  As a good neighbor, the development team and the church worked with all of these groups to address the majority of their concerns, and incorporated their desires into the plans.  

The biggest challenge, however, was presented from the “Neighborhood Action Plan”   which is an amalgamation of two different documents, the original San Marco by Design and the San Marco Overlay.  Park Place required ingenuity and perseverance to work through the zoning challenges.  Combining the 2 disparately zoned parcels required PUD rezoning, with approval needed from the city’s planning department, the Land Use and Zoning Committee, and the City Council.  Here’s a bit of that history.

San Marco By Design

San Marco by Design is the community vision for future development in San Marco.  It was developed in 2010-2012 through a series of well advertised, well attended community meetings.  We received guidance from livable communities expert, Dan Burden, who emphasized that increasing density is a key factor in creating healthy, thriving, walkable communities.  San Marco expressed the desire to be that type of community.  

The forward of the document, written by Doug,  states “We cannot be diligent enough to ensure this is a community vision, not just the goals of a select few.”  

In this document, created by the community and approved by SMPS board, the Park Place property was included in the transportation corridor and had the same rights as other transportation corridor properties, with 4-6 story buildings.  It also envisioned an opportunity for a shared use parking agreement between the church and the San Marco businesses, similar to the one between the merchants and Southside Baptist Church. 


San Marco by Design envisions 4-6 story buildings on the Atlantic Blvd corridor properties. Park Place occupies the two southernmost pink parcels.  The easternmost portion of the village district now has a 4-5 story apartment building abutting single family homes.

San Marco Overlay

The San Marco Overlay is the zoning code for San Marco.  It was originally conceptualized by our district councilperson as the Lake Marco Overlay, with the intent of preserving historic homes around Lake Marco.  A professional study was done and a well written overlay was created.  Gradually, with each new councilmember, the San Marco Overlay expanded its boundaries into the commercial district and beyond.  These later iterations were not guided by professional studies or vetted with the community or property owners.  Single family residential standards of 35′ were arbitrarily and inequitably applied to select commercial properties.  

In Riverside, a similar Jacksonville historic district, 3 story commercial buildings are allowed 45′ to promote historic style architecture.   Our hope is that the San Marco Overlay will be updated with more equitable, reasonable guidelines.

Neighborhood Action Plan (NAP)

The NAP is based on SMBD but where discrepancies exist beween the community’s vision and the overlay, it defers to the overlay.  Typically, zoning codes follow the vision for a city or community, but the opposite was done in San Marco.

In the NAP, created by “a select few“, one portion of the Park Place property had a new 35′ height restriction placed on it.  The height restriction was financially incompatible with the desired goals of San Marco by Design- increased density and a joint parking arrangement with the church.  Further complicating the situation was (arguably unconstitutional) language added to the overlay which sought to prevent property owners from requesting changes.

Height Averaging

To make the project economically viable while remaining within the NAP parameters, Doug implemented height averaging.  Height averaging is little known to the public, even though it is included in Jacksonville zoning codes and has been used previously.  The team had to demonstrate to the city council how height averaging respects and enhances the transition between single family residences to the south and the commercial Publix shopping center to the north. It also allowed for the desired shared parking between the development and the church.

Victory for the Community Vision

Ultimately the project received unanimous approval from the Planning Commission and the Land Use and Zoning Committee.   The city council recognized the value of the project to the community and commended the design team for its tremendous effort to work with all parties involved.  It passed with only one opposing vote. 

Once built, Park Place will be one of two apartment complexes near San Marco Square that meets walkability standards and is completely out of the flood prone areas of San Marco.  It will serve as an example of development for resiliency and will bring much needed density and vibrancy to the businesses in San Marco Square. 

Further, it is a victory for equity in San Marco.    A similar development, surrounding the same village district but on the east side of the railroad tracks, was approved and built without opposition, next to modest single family homes.  That apartment complex along Philips is also a great addition to the neighborhood and is an important link in connecting San Marco to the charming St. Nicholas neighborhood. 

Once Park Place is built we will update with photos.




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An Empty Nest

Our youngest child and only daughter is graduating!  Ingrid Maria is pure joy, with a heart as beautiful as her smile.


Though her senior year didn’t turn out exactly as hoped or planned, she has a bright future ahead of her. She will attend Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, WV to study nursing.  She will be a “top”  and a tumbler on the Acrobatics and Tumbling team, meaning she will be thrown into the air by her teammates.   Yes, a little daunting for a parent to watch, but this child is never happier than when she is flying through the air.  Hence her childhood was filled with gymnastics, trapeze adventures, and high flying theme park rides.

Now that we will be empty nesters, we’re excited about some of our own new adventures.  Hope to post more on that as the future unfolds.

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In the two years since we’ve updated our website, many things have changed.  Most importantly, our middle child has graduated and gone to college. Sam is a freshman at the University of Alabama, majoring in mechanical engineering.  We’re learning to say “Roll Tide!”

Jacob, our oldest, is a junior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  He’s majoring in piano performance with a minor in mathematics and is also in the SciTech Honors program.  He’s a busy kid!  We’re happy the boys are only a short drive from each other, though far from us.

We’ll be sure to post about projects before our last one leaves the nest!

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The Graduate

Jacob's Recital Invitation

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Beautifully Accessible

Accessibility is a word we hear a lot in the design and construction world.   The American with Disabilities Act was a great victory for those with disabilities, but the benefits reach far beyond helping those with physical disabilities.  Accessibility- making places usable for people with limited mobility- can be beautiful and convenient for everyone.

A beautiful barrier free shower that anyone would want.

A beautiful barrier free shower that anyone would want.

Initially accessible buildings had a sterile, hospital like look-



Or were just not pretty-


Things have certainly changed!


A traditional style bathroom with wheelchair accessible shower stall. Photo from Architectural Digest.

Another trend driving better design is the “Aging in place” movement.   Baby boomers want their homes to age with them- to meet future mobility needs but look beautiful now.  The design world has caught up to the law and current demand, so accessible places can now be as beautifully designed as any other.   Grab bars come in many finishes and styles, safer flooring choices now look like any other, and smart home technology allows hands free room controls.

In the upcoming months I want to highlight some options that anyone would want in their home.  Accessible, functional, beautiful.

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  We hope this year has been filled with blessings and may God bless you and your family in the coming year.

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Belgian Inspiration

We are getting back into the swing of things with another school year. Wow, the summer has flown by!  It was a great and inspirational summer, though, and Doug and I had a chance to visit Flanders for ten days.  As always we were inspired by the community design, the architecture, and the beautiful countryside.  We also learned that Belgians are delightful people with a wonderful sense of humor.  They embrace some of the best of French, German, and Dutch cultures, creating a relaxed but efficient culture with delectable food and tempting treats (beer and chocolate anyone?)

Our apartment on Jakobstraat

Our apartment on Jakobstraat

Our apartment in the heart of Brugge was a perfect haven from which to tour the sights or explore the backroads by bicycle.  We rode along the canal to Damme, a charming town 4 miles from Brugge, and to the train station where we had easy rail access to the rest of Belgium.     Along the route we encountered  Belgian draught horses and sheep, toured a working windmill, and marveled at the interesting architecture and landscapes.

The route to Damme

The route to Damme





Wooden gears in a working windmill.

The bell feature on this garage was enchanting.

The bell feature on this garage was enchanting.

Architecture in the Belgian countryside.

Architecture in the Belgian countryside.

Belgian country home.

Belgian country home

In Damme, we found a pottery shop which inspired.

The barefoot potter at Terra Flama in Damme, Belgium. He work with such enthusiasm that we were inspired to create our own pieces.

The barefoot potter at Terra Flama in Damme, Belgium. He worked with such enthusiasm that we were inspired to create our own pieces.

This post is more about Damme than Bruges, so I will follow up with more Belgium pictures.  As always, travel renews us and gets us into the creative spirit- more on that to come also!



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Bioswale Update

The San Marco Library Bioswale, a Coca-Cola Company demonstration project with the St. Johns Riverkeeper, is both beautiful and effective two years after installation.   The Bald Cypress, Spartina Grass, Muhly Grass, and Dwarf Yaupon Holly drain and filter the runoff before sending it into the St. Johns River.  We’d love to see more of these projects around Jacksonville.  For more detailed information, visit the bioswale project page.

enVision- Bioswale_2014_04_07_0135

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San Marco Train Station

We have a project update on the new San Marco Panera.  See the link here.

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Railroad Park

I took my boys to Birmingham over spring break. We had a great time exploring, hiking, eating, and touring.  Birmingham is an amazing city with friendly people, a hip but very family friendly vibe, great food, natural beauty, charming architecture, and a cool urban university.  UAB was the primary reason for our visit.  Our eldest son is considering UAB for its music and science/engineering/pre-med programs.  As usual, we stayed at the Aloft hotel in Homewood.  It’s centrally located in the Homewood core, surrounded by mixed use developments, just “over the mountain” from Birmingham.

Our stay included a long visit to Railroad Park, busy with families and students exercising and lingering in the beautiful sunset.  Doug did an article on Railroad Park for MetroJacksonville a few years ago.  Since then, Birmingham has built a new minor league baseball stadium next to Railroad Park with the intent of bringing the Birmingham Barons back to the core from the Hoover suburb. It worked!  New businesses are coming in to the area, creating a connection from booming UAB to the park.

Railroad Park at sunset.

Railroad Park at sunset.

We took a trip to Oak Mountain State Park for an afternoon of hiking to Peavine Falls.

Peavine Falls at Oak Mountain State Park

Jacob loved the urban campus, the city of Birmingham, the mountains and their promised adventures, so I think UAB is at the top of his list.  Not to mention the 1997 Van Cliburn Piano Competition’s silver medalist, Yakov Kasman,  as professor and artist in residence at UAB’s piano program. I wouldn’t mind;)

So long as the scholarships follow.


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