EDITORIAL: “Up-zoning” Threatens the Stability of Residential Neighborhoods.

“Up-zoning” is something that should concern all property owners living in residential neighborhoods.  Up-zoning is the practice of rezoning property to a more intensive use than its present zoning.   

Since almost all of the residentially zoned neighborhoods inside the city limits of St. Augustine border on commercial or institutional zoned properties, there is always the threat that residential property on the edges could be purchased and up-zoned to commercial or institutional uses.  So far the City has rarely up-zoned property requests, and has kept our zoning stable and predictable, except in the cases of PUDs.  

Stable and predictable zoning is absolutely necessary, especially to homeowners, whose houses are often their biggest longterm investment.  A wise property buyer knows what zoning district he is buying into and what that zoning allows, and puts down roots accordingly.  It is unfair for the City to change the zoning that surrounds that investment.  

Before PZB on Tuesday, March 5, is an up-zoning request by the Catholic Church to up-zone the Mission grounds from Open Land (OL) to Commercial Low (CL-2).  They are also asking to up-zone the residential property they own on Ocean Avenue from Residential Single Family (RS-2) to Commercial Low (CL-2).  

The Catholic Church claims in their application that “the City gave the Property zoning designations of Open Land and Residential Single-Family Two (RS-2), which do not match the historic and current uses of the Property.”  

This is not true.  Churches, cemeteries, memorial structures and monuments are uses allowed in Open Land zoning.  The City has a Land Use category in their Comprehensive Plan of Open Land, which might better serve the church than the Public Use category it now has.  But in either case there is NO need to change the Land Use and Zoning to Commercial Low Intensity.  It is properly zoned as it stands now.  

Those people, who invested in homes in the neighborhoods to the north and south of Mission, bought knowing that their neighborhoods were zoned Residential Single Family (RS-1 & RS-2) and that they had the peaceful non-commercial property of the Mission next to them.  It is totally unfair to devalue their investment by putting a Commercial Zone next to those neighborhoods now.  

The Single Family Residential neighborhood to the north is being threatened by erosion of their RS-2 zoning by this request to rezone it to CL-2.  What if the Fountain of Youth was to start buying up residential property along Magnolia Avenue and requesting the same up-zoning to a commercial use for them?  What grounds would the city have to deny it, if the Mission is allowed rezone their residential property to commercial? 

Also consider that San Marco Avenue cannot take any more commercial intensification.  Traffic is already maxed out on weekends and on weekdays during certain busy times of the year.  There are times when residents cannot make a left hand turn onto San Marco out of their neighborhoods.  

Consider the commercial uses allowed in Commercial Low Density (CL-2), which are too many to list here compared to Open Land (OL) which allows churches and whose intent is; “to apply to areas which are sparsely developed and including uses as normally found in environmentally sensitive areas away from urban activity. It is intended that substantial residential, commercial or industrial development shall not be permitted in the OL district.”

Also it is important to remember that zoning goes with the land, not the owner.  So once this is up-zoned to a commercial use, pieces can then be sold off to anyone, and any allowed CL-2 commercial use can go in there.  The Catholic Church will be able to make a much bigger profit on the sale of CL-2 parcels, rather than OL or RS-2 properties.  It is not the role of the City to enrich profit margins by up-zoning the property of an applicant.

If granted, this rezoning will be a huge intensification of use on the Mission grounds and set a terrible precedent for our future zoning.  If this is allowed here, it will encourage investors to start buying up less expensive residential property in anyone’s neighborhood (especially property abutting commercial zones) and ask that it also be up-zoned to commercial use.  This is an inexpensive way to buy commercial property.  It will only be a matter of time before our historic residential neighborhoods are eaten away it from the outside, with properties falling like dominos, rezoned from less intense to more intense uses.     

Up-zoning should not be granted for the reasons stated above.  No one…be they church, institution, business, or a private homeowners should be granted the favor of up-zoning their property.   

If the City of St. Augustine starts up-zoning property, then we may as well do away with zoning altogether, because without stable and constant zoning, there is no point in having zoning.   

Up-zoning is something ALL Neighborhood Associations should be concerned about, because once it is allowed, it can happen anywhere, and none of us are safe.     

Please write the PZB members at pzb@citystaug.com and ask them not to up-zone the Mission property to CL-2.  

If possible, attend the PZB meeting on Tuesday, February 5 which starts at 2:00 pm and speak out against this rezoning. It is #6 & #7 on the agenda, in case you want to watch at home and come down as the item gets closer.  

Editorial by Melinda Rakoncay