Brooklyn projects show need to define primary streets

Not all Downtown streets are the same, and the Downtown Design Review Board's discussions of the proposed Home2 Suites project in Brooklyn show that Jacksonville needs to adjust its approach. Namely, we need to hash out the difference between primary streets – high-traffic commercial corridors – and low-traffic secondary service streets supporting them.

Editorial by Bill Delaney, Ennis Davis and Mike Field

The background

The proposed Home2 Suites by Hilton hotel site at 600 Park Street.

Kelco Management and Development Inc. and Corner Lot Development Group have proposed building a Hilton Home2 Suites extended stay hotel on a currently vacant parcel in Brooklyn located at Park, Roselle and Chelsea Streets. The proposed hotel would front nearly the entire property along Park, the main thoroughfare, with a ground floor restaurant incorporated at the corner of Park and Roselle.

The Downtown Development Review Board (DDRB) has expressed concerns with the building’s design along Chelsea Street, where the parking is proposed. In fact, the DDRB staff found the Chelsea Street frontage so problematic that they initially recommended the board deny conceptual approval of the entire project, writing, “As presented staff cannot support the proposal because it does not conform to the Downtown Overlay Zone and Downtown District Use and Form Regulations subsection K. Off-Street Parking. The applicant will need to redesign the project to conform to the regulation or request a deviation.”

To summarize, to meet the Downtown overlay requirements, the hotel would need to wrap the parking lot with frontage on the entirety of Park, Roselle and Chelsea Streets, or else construct a parking garage with ground floor retail. Either option would add millions to the cost and likely sink the project. At their December 10 meeting, the DDRB ended up granting conceptual approval with some conditions, but in our opinion, the discussion reveals a flaw in the Downtown code that allows the ostensible perfect to become the enemy of the incremental good.

Primary streets and secondary streets

As it stands, Jacksonville’s Downtown overlay essentially treats all streets the same. In the Home2 Suites case, a lack of frontage on Chelsea Street is as much an issue for the DDRB as a lack of frontage on Park Street would be. For those who want to see Downtown grow, that’s a problem.

Park Street is the main thoroughfare in this part of Brooklyn, and is seeing increasing pedestrian-friendly development. This is where we should most care about how the building interacts on a pedestrian scale. Chelsea Street, by contrast, is a low traffic street that’s now disconnected from the neighborhood grid, and therefore a good place for parking and service access to buildings on Park.

An easy solution would be for the development guidelines to distinguish between primary streets and secondary streets that offer access to them. Many cities, particularly those with comprehensive master plans, make this distinction. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan distinguishes between various types of streets, including “Mixed Use Streets” (those with “ground floor commercial uses”) and “Service Streets” (which “serve low volumes and provide access to industrial and commercial areas where demand for pedestrian and bicycle amenities is low.”)

The Home2 Suites debate is yet another reason that Jacksonville should have a true Downtown master plan. Such a plan could distinguish between retail-heavy primary streets and service-oriented secondary streets. In Brooklyn, Park would be a natural primary commercial corridor, with Chelsea Street functioning as a secondary service street providing parking and delivery access for developments like Home2 Suites. A look at how other cities define types of streets shows how it could work.

Next page: Street types in other cities