The fate of a controversial townhome development near downtown Pensacola will be decided by Pensacola city council members at a special meeting next month.
Mobile-based Segen Ventures wants to build a 23-unit development called Girard Place on the Romana Street property formerly occupied by the historic John Sunday House, built in 1901 by one of the most prominent African-American figures in the city’s history. That house was demolished last summer after a previous owner obtained a court ruling allowing him to bypass the city’s Architectural Review Board, which had sought to postpone the demolition in an effort to preserve the home.
Because the property is located within one of the city’s special review districts, that same board must approve the plans for the Girard Place development, which Segen developer Dean Parker first announced in January.
Under the city code, the ARB is charged with ensuring developments are “compatible with the built environment” of the district. Opponents of the Girard Place project have said it doesn’t meet that standard, citing the project’s planned street-facing garages, which are uncommon in urban developments. Other planned downtown-area developments, including The Warfield in the Seville neighborhood and the Junction at West Hill in Belmont-Devilliers, place garages and other parking areas in the rear of buildings.
Parker has pointed to the nearby Baylen Lofts — developed by current city council president Brian Spencer — as an example of a downtown residential project which does feature street-facing garages. Unlike the Girard Place development, however, the Baylen Lofts project rehabilitated a historic building, and placing parking in the rear of the building wasn’t an option. Parker has said that it’s not possible to move parking to the rear of the Girard Place buildings while preserving the planned pool, community building, and other amenities.
Ultimately, the ARB issued Segen a conditional approval in March, asking that he make a number of changes to the building facades, a move Parker considered an effective denial.
“I’m extremely disappointed in the ARB and the fact that they were not willing to work with us,” Parker said earlier this month, calling board members “disrespectful” and “unprofessional.”
“We’re here to invest in Pensacola and we’re building what customers want,” Parker said.
Unwilling to work with the ARB, Parker has appealed the board’s decision to the city council. In the past, the council has taken up similar appeals at their regular monthly meetings, but for the Girard Place appeal, the council has scheduled a special meeting on Monday, May 8 at 1:30 p.m.
Spencer said the special meeting was scheduled in hopes that council members could give the appeal the attention it deserves, rather than risk it getting lost in the council’s often-lengthy agendas.
“I wanted to segregate an appeal such as this from a regular council meeting in order to foster a context in which the council could focus exclusively on the material and testimony presented,” Spencer said Wednesday.