By Bryan Boggiano
Cornerstone construction is underway, and the city cleared another obstacle for developers to complete the downtown mixed-use project located on the southwest corner of Sample Road and University Drive.
On Wednesday, the city commission approved a list of special exceptions to the North Block of the Cornerstone, modifying certain aspects of the site plan.
The special exceptions relate to the height of the ground floor, lot coverage, ground floor transparency, and storefront character. These plans do not affect the South Block, which still calls for 351 rental units and a 144-room Hyatt Place Hotel.
Special exceptions for Cornerstone date back to Feb. 2020, when the city commission approved one related to bike lane requirements, minimum and maximum block lengths, maximum first and second-floor heights, commercial frontage requirements, and ground-floor active use requirements.
In June 2020, the commission voted on modifications to that plan, allowing the North and South blocks to be constructed in separate phases and for the North Block to take on a primarily commercial and retail character.
Previously, the city commission approved plans for the North Block that called for no residential units, approximately 65,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, and 195,211 square feet of office space.
Since then, the city noted market conditions changed in response to COVID, the economy, and the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside. This, in turn, affected several proposed uses for Cornerstone.
The new plans call for 353 rental units, about 24,000 square feet of commercial space, 8,100 square feet of museum/public art space, and no office space. Due to those changes, developers needed to change the site plan and request modifications to a previously approved special exception.
Current plans also call for 1,326 parking spaces at the North Block, exceeding the 1,279 code-required spots. Residential and nonresidential parking will be separated.
For the ground floor, the code-required height must be 14 feet, while Cornerstone’s proposed height for the floor is 17 feet. The maximum-allowed lot coverage is 90 percent, but Cornerstone’s North Block would have 95 percent coverage.
The ground floor transparency deals with window spacing on the North Block’s west side. The code requires 60-percent minimum transparency, while the commission previously approved 40 percent. The updated plans call for 17 percent transparency.
City code also sets the total large window display coverage at 40 to 80 percent for the ground floor. The west side only has 24 percent coverage, according to updated plans.
The storefront character element deals with the public art and museum space. Under the code, no more than 30 feet of blank-wall space is allowed, but Cornerstone’s updated plans call for 66 feet.
The special exception modification also comes with numerous special exceptions. These include restricting delivery trucks from parking and idling along Northwest 94th Avenue and Northwest 32nd Street, requiring trash collection to adhere to Waste Pro recommendations, and acknowledging the property owner must enter into a security agreement with the city.
While the commission expressed disappointment with how certain aspects of Cornerstone strayed away from their original vision, they welcomed the progress and still believe it will be an asset to the city.
“We have to be realists up here and understand where we are…we have to keep moving forward,” said Commissioner Joshua Simmons.
Ultimately, Commissioner Joy Carter moved to approve the special exceptions, which Simmons seconded. The measure passed unanimously.
“I’m looking forward to the continued redevelopment of our downtown,” said Mayor Scott Brook.
- Bryan has a degree in journalism from the University of Florida and earned his masters in geosciences from Florida International University, where he focused in atmospheric sciences. His interests include weather, entertainment, and municipal government.
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