Preserving the history of Jonesboro

By Ed Brock

Angela Grubbs-Adasme grew up across the street from the Georgia Colonial Revival house in which she now lives.

And now she is also one of the five people dedicated to preserving the history her home represents.

Grubbs-Adasme is a member of the Jonesboro Historic Preservation Commission. If the city council votes to approve proposed changes to the city zoning ordinance the 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.

"It's to keep somebody from putting an uber-modern, 'Miami Vice' kind of thing in a Victorian neighborhood," Lookofsky said.

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. Along with Grubbs-Adasme, members of the commission are Ab Dickson, Lillie Suder, Danny Windom and Betsy Wester.

The city council picked the commission members starting last year from applicants who answered an open call by the city, Lookofsky said.

Grubbs-Adasme said her qualification for being on the commission comes from personal experience.

Prior to moving back to Jonesboro in February to take care of her ailing mother, Grubbs-Adasme, an attorney with the Social Security office in Atlanta, lived in a historic district in Stone Mountain. She learned a lot about what can happen to such a district without zoning protection, so that's why she decided to join commission.

"I was already familiar with those issues so I thought I could help them out," Grubbs-Adasme said.

For example, during her time in Stone Mountain several agencies bought houses to use as group homes for young boys, most of who were juvenile offenders.

"Something like that can happen over night (in Jonesboro)," Grubbs-Adasme said, because the town has large, affordable houses in the proposed historic district.

Since being appointed to the commission Grubbs-Adasme has spoken to several residents about the ordinance and found that people are either very much for it or very much against it.

"A lot of people don't really understand it all, which I can understand because it's complex," Grubbs-Adasme said. "I'm trying to educate as much as I can the people who talk to me."

Nancy Reeves said she is one of those people who don't quite understand the proposed zoning rules, but she adds that she hasn't really tried to study it thoroughly yet because she's not sure if it will be passed.

"Who can understand this?" Reeves said. "The minute they told me it was 1,000 pages it made my head hurt."

Reeves said she's already made some alterations to her bungalow on Lee Street, but she wonders what will happen if she decides to sell part of her property some day.

Lookofsky said that if the Historic Preservation Commission chooses to deny someone a certificate that person can appeal the decision to the city council. Residents in the historic district will not have to change their houses to come into compliance, but will only face the commission if they choose to make a change.

And there's one other thing that has concerned some people, Lookofsky said.

"This does not affect what you do with the inside of your house," Lookofsky said. "Nobody's going to tell you that you can't remodel your kitchen."

More information on the proposed zoning ordinance, including maps of the historic district, and is available at Jonesboro City Hall on North Avenue.

A public hearing will be held at the council's next meeting on Aug. 8, City Manager Jon Walker said. Walker also said that the council has dropped one proposed change to the ordinance that would require property owners on S. Main Street to put a retail business on the first floor of their building if that property was to remain vacant for more than six months.

The council may vote on the ordinance at the Aug. 8 meeting.