Beach & Hodges: A Disaster of Jacksonville's Making

November 11, 2011 47 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

According to a report from Transportation for America, from 2000 through 2009, 342 pedestrians were killed in Jacksonville, making the area the third worst in the country for walkers - and Jacksonville has no one to blame but itself. Poorly-designed new centers of commercial activity like the ones at the intersection of Beach and Hodges are a prime example of what plagues Jacksonville.

About Beach & Hodges

Kimco's Pablo Creek Plaza East.

Since 2005, $36.4 million has been spent to widen 4.4 miles of Beach Boulevard to six lanes between Florida State College at Jacksonville and San Pablo Boulevard.  Sidewalks and bicycle lanes were included in this roadway project.  Unfortunately, reflective of FDOT design standards, they were included as an afterthought, with the primary focus of the project being increased automobile capacity and movement along the corridor.

Sleiman Enterprises' Hodges Point Plaza.

This roadway expansion helped facilitate the development of two large shopping centers at the intersection of Beach and Hodges.  The 47-acre, 320,000-square-foot Pablo Creek Plaza East was the first major development at the intersection. Developed by Kimco Developers, Inc. of New York in 2007, the shopping center was sold to Los Angeles-based Westwood Financial Corporation in 2008 for $31.3 million. Currently, the shopping center is anchored by Target, OfficeMax and Michael's.  Sleiman Enterprises' Hodges Point Plaza anchors the southwest corner of the intersection.  Completed in 2008, this 360,000-square-foot center is anchored by Wal-Mart and Bealls.

Traffic backs up between traffic signals on Hodges, despite recent roadway improvements to Beach and Hodges Boulevards.

The intersection of Beach and Hodges is a microcosm of the style of new development that has mushroomed in and around Jacksonville over the last decade.  Wide arterial highways, flanked with large-scale commercial development, all designed for automobile movement and not the pedestrians who call Jacksonville their home.  As a result, the city's quality of life continues to decline and pedestrian and bicycle deaths continue to increase.

A Solution For Quality Suburban Development

A Walmart in Long Beach, CA.

One of the most effective methods of transforming the quality of development in Jacksonville is the modification of zoning regulations to form-based codes. A form-based code (FBC) is a means of regulating development to achieve a specific urban form. Form-based codes create a predictable public realm by controlling physical form primarily, with a lesser focus on land use, through city or county regulations.

Form-based codes are a new response to the modern challenges of urban sprawl, deterioration of historic neighborhoods, and neglect of pedestrian safety in new development. Tradition has declined as a guide to development patterns, and the widespread adoption by cities of single-use zoning regulations has discouraged compact, walkable urbanism. Form-based codes are a tool to address these deficiencies, and to provide local governments the regulatory means to achieve development objectives with greater certainty.

Compare and Contrast: Conventional Zoning vs Form-Based Codes

While many may blame the development community for the underwhelming design of these major shopping centers, the real blame falls on Jacksonville.  In fact, Beach and Hodges' Pablo Creek Plaza East and Hodges Point Plaza are prime examples of site design resulting from Jacksonville's failing land use and zoning policies.

SODO Orlando vs. Pablo Creek Plaza East

While KIMCO birthed a sprawling automobile congestion magnet in the form of Pablo Creek Plaza East in Jacksonville, the same company developed SoDo in Orlando.  Like Pable Creek Plaza East, SoDo (South of Downtown) is anchored by a SuperTarget, includes Taco Bell as an outparcel and abuts an FDOT arterial highway.  But, unlike Pablo Creek, its mixed use, designed to be pedestrian scale, and even the Taco Bell front the sidewalk along the highway as opposed to a surface parking lot.  

Similar tenants, yet in a different city's new development, enhances walkability and supports transit use and the quality of the neighborhood surrounding it.  The other is designed in a manner that congests existing streets while making it deadly for pedestrians and cyclists to access retailers and services.

The main entrance of SODO Orlando is designed to accommodate multiple forms of mobility.  Just as much thought is given to the human scale experience as motorized movement.  Thus, sidewalks are designed with landscaping and amenities to enhance the pedestrian experience and buffer pedestrians from motorized vehicle movement.

The main entrance of Pablo Creek Plaza East is designed to shuffle automobiles in and out of the center as fast as possible.  How one accesses shops after they park is a complete afterthought.  Thus, even in a surface parking lot, one may still find it risky accessing the front door of their desired retail destination.

Outparcel uses in and around SODO Orlando are designed to front the street and interact with the sidewalk adjacent to them.  Surface parking is located to the rear.

Outparcel uses in and around Pablo Creek Plaza East are not designed to interact with the sidewalks and streets surrounding them.  Despite, Beach Boulevard having bike lanes, the environment is hostile enough that cyclist prefer riding on the adjacent sidewalks instead.

Parking for businesses in SODO Orlando are either structured or located to the rear of businesses, making the complex more inviting and visually appealing to its users.

Massive surface parking for businesses in Pablo Creek Plaza East makes it dangerous to access portions of the site on foot. Thus, the design further encourages automobile use, creating an environment that cause surrounding streets to reach capacity sooner rather than later.

Atlanta's Edgewood Retail District vs. Hodges Point Plaza

Edgewood Retail District in Atlanta, GA.

Atlanta's Edgewood Retail District is a good example of a suburban shopping center designed in a manner that accommodates both the pedestrian and the automobile.  The result is a development that embraces walkability and enhances the character of the established neighborhoods surrounding it.  Anchored by Target, Lowe's, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Barnes & Noble, Kroger, Ross, and Office Depot, Edgewood's tenant mix is no different from the chains that continuously line Jacksonville's arterial highways like Atlantic, Beach, Normandy, Southside, San Jose and Blanding Boulevards. Of interesting note, Edgewood's developer Sembler also developed Jacksonville's Riverside Square (Five Points) and Oakleaf Town Center (Argyle).  Both of those shopping centers feature more pedestrian-scale components than the typical Jacksonville strip mall.

The main entrance to Sembler's Edgewood Retail District in Atlanta.  The form-based design places specialty retail stores against the public right-of-way.  Buildings are also designed to interact with the sidewalk along the main street.  Also note the design of the sidewalk.  Street trees, display windows, and store entrances create edge conditions attractive for pedestrian use.

The main entrance to Sleiman Enterprises' Hodges Point Plaza.  The entrance is designed to fit within Jacksonville's zoning regulations catering to automobile movement as opposed to human-scale mobility.  Thus, specialty retail buildings are setback from the street. The sidewalk conditions along Hodges Boulevard are also designed to limit  

Interior access roads into Edgewood Retail District's big box anchor parking lots are lined with specialty retail shops.  Specialty retail buildings and sidewalk conditions are designed to enhance the human-scale experience.

Interior access roadway into Jacksonville's Hodges Point Plaza.  Sidewalk conditions are designed in a traditional strip mall format, featuring little landscaping or human-scale amenities

Surface parking for Lowe's Home Improvement can be seen in the center of the Edgewood Retail District property.  Like what Jacksonville has become used too, Edgewood's big box anchors still have surface parking for automobile parking.  However, this surface parking can not be seen from the main street.

Surface parking at Hodges Point Plaza dominates the landscape, making walking between businesses at the development a difficult, uninviting process.  This design forces more trips to the center to be made by vehicle as opposed to other forms of transportation, which  creates more strain on public infrastructure used to provide access to these services.

Striving For A Better Jacksonville

It we want our developments to age better, why are we enforcing zoning codes and land use regulations that have led to the commercial blight that dominates our urban landscape today?

No one would question the popularity or the benefit of uses clustered around the major intersection at Beach and Hodges for their surrounding neighborhoods.  However, Jacksonville's zoning code needs to be taken to task for allowing this cluster of new development to be designed in a manner that increases the potential of blight, traffic congestion, and pedestrian and bicyclist deaths in the immediate area.  Modifing land use and street design policy are simple, affordable, and highly effective methods in enhancing the long-term quality of growth and new development.

Jacksonville doesn't have to be a doormat for the lowest common denominator of new development.  We can and should become a place where new development enhances the atmosphere and livability of the communities it serves, by being  properly designed to integrate into them.  However, before we can make that change, we first need to accept that we as a community deserve better.

Article by Ennis Davis.