Jonesboro holds last hearing on zoning ordinance

By Ed Brock

Questions were few and relatively non-controversial during the last public hearing on changes to Jonesboro's zoning ordinance.

A moderate-sized crowd filled the courtroom at the Jonesboro Police Headquarters on Monday night for the hearing. The city council was supposed to vote on the zoning ordinance, along with the new zoning map and three related ordinances, after the hearing but they tabled that decision until next week.

While previous public hearings on the ordinance grew boisterous at times, Monday's hearing was fairly tame.

"What does this ordinance say about people buying houses and splitting it up into apartments, efficiency apartments?" asked Jack Stephens.

Mayor Day assured him that the ordinance would be as restrictive as possible, and most houses in the residential zone are limited to single-family residential use. However, Day said that some people rent out parts of their houses to other people and somehow claim to be a kind of family.

"Our definition of family and the world's definition of family is a little bit different," Day said.

One of the more controversial aspects of the original proposed changes to the ordinance was a section that would require property owners on parts of Main Street to sell or rent the downstairs portion of their building for retail commercial use if it remains vacant for more than six months. Most of the buildings on Main Street now are used as offices for lawyers and other businesses.

That section was cut after several people, including some attorneys who own their buildings on Main Street, came to the first meeting to protest.

Another part of the new ordinance that concerned some residents was the creation of two historic districts, in which restrictions would be placed on new buildings and renovations to old structures. Residents felt the restrictions would be too costly.

If the city council votes to approve proposed changes to the zoning ordinance the Jonesboro Historic Preservation Commission will be responsible for making sure new buildings and alterations to current buildings meet with historic standards.

There are seven historic prototypes already existing in the town that will be used to set a basic standard for new developments in the proposed historic district, said Kathryn Lookofsky, director of downtown development for the city.

They include folk Victorian, gabled el, Georgian colonial revival, Greek revival, bungalows, Queen Ann Victorian and English vernacular revival. Lookofsky said new houses in the district don't have to fall precisely under any of those categories, but they do have to complement such designs.

When a developer or individual wants to build a new home in the historic district, or make an addition or change to an existing home, they must receive a "certificate of appropriateness" from the commission. If the commission refused to issue a certificate the property owner could appeal to the council.

Members of the commission are Angela Grubbs-Adasme Ab Dickson, Lillie Suder, Danny Windom and Betsy Wester.

Danny Wright wanted to know if a resident built a separate structure on the same piece of property as an existing structure would they then be required to bring the existing structure into compliance with the law as well, if it was non-conforming.

Bill Johnston, president of Strategic Planning Initiatives that helped form the zoning changes told him that he would have to bring the existing structure into compliance if the new structure was more than half the size of the existing structure.

The council will hold a called meeting on Monday at 6 p.m. to consider approving the zoning ordinance, along with a new sign ordinance and development regulations. City Manager Jon Walker said the council delayed the decision on the ordinances because he had received the sign ordinance on Monday and it was in a slightly different format from what the city had presented to the public previously.

"I wanted everybody to have a chance to see it," Walker said.

The ordinances are available to the public at Jonesboro City Hall on North Avenue.