Photo by Curt Yeomans
Several older storefronts are located in Jonesboro's historic district. The city has recently renovated the spaces in front of these shops, through its ongoing Streetscape project.
Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day is planning to revive the city’s historic preservation commission after a long period of dormancy.
Day said it is not clear how long it has been since the commission last met. She said they met regularly until her last tenure as mayor ended in late 2007. But, she added the town’s City Hall does not have records of the commission meeting after that. The commission, which is responsible for preserving Jonesboro’s historic district, may have not met in as many as four years, she added.
The historic district includes Jonesboro’s downtown area on North Main Street, South Main Street, and McDonough Street. There are several buildings in that area — such as the Historic Clayton County Courthouse, the old Jonesboro train depot, and multiple homes-turned-businesses — that are almost as old as the 153-year old city, itself.
The mayor said it important that the city have a group looking out for that part of town.
“We have a lot of important buildings in our historic district,” Day said. “We want to move forward with efforts to bring new businesses to the city, and keep our downtown, and historic district, as well-maintained and unchanged as possible.”
Day formally asked the Jonesboro City Council on Tuesday to approve changes to the city code section that dictates who can sit on the five-member commission. The requested change — if approved — would open up membership to anyone who lives in the city. The council is expected to vote on changing the code section at its April 9 business meeting.
“The code presently says all members shall be residents ... residing within the [city’s] historic district,” Day told council members. “The problem with that is, since this was written, we don’t have that many people residing in the historic district. So, I would like to see the council consider changing that to just people that reside within the city.”
The mayor explained there has been a shift in the make-up of Jonesboro’s historic district — from residential, to office and industrial — since the preservation commission was created. That shift, she added, has made it harder to find people to serve on the board.
“We are to seek [per city code] people — if we can find people — from the disciplines of architecture, history, architectural history, planning, archeology, etc., etc.,” Day said. “So, we would want to seek people in the city who are interested in this subject, and who are interested in historic preservation.”
Day added that the commission would review any proposed changes someone would like to make within the historic district, and then make a recommendation to the city council to either approve, or reject those plans. She added that anyone who is turned down by the commission would be allowed to appeal that decision before the city council.
“It’s kind of like a zoning committee,” she said.
Depending on what the council decides next week, Day explained that she hopes to have the Historic Preservation Commission up and running again within a month to six weeks.
But, there are some issues council members will need to work out before they take a vote on changing the council. The key issue will be a suggestion from Councilmember Wallace Norrington to open the commission’s membership to an even wider group than Day is proposing.
“Maybe we could expand it to include anyone who owns a business in the historic district,” Norrington said.
That suggestion struck a chord with some Jonesboro residents, such as Jack Bruce, who owns a tax service business in the city. He said people who owns businesses in the city should be allowed to serve on the commission, regardless of whether they live in the city, since town leaders voted to re-institute Jonesboro’s millage rate — largely on the backs of businesses — in late 2010.
“It’s like you said, ‘We think high enough of them to tax them,’ so I think we ought to be included in the planning of this town,” Bruce told Day and the city council.
But, councilmember Pat Sebo urged the council to stick with Day’s recommendation of just expanding membership to a wider group of residents. She explained that while business owners would be interested in what happens to Jonesboro’s historic district, she felt any proposed plans that the commission might consider would carry more significance with people who live in the city.
“It’s not that business owners do not care about what happens to our historic district, but I feel people who are residents here have a more vested interest in what happens,” Sebo said.
The city council’s April 9 business meeting is expected to begin at 7 p.m., in the council chambers at the Jonesboro Police Department, which is located at 170 South Main Street.