Photo by Curt Yeomans
Weisbaden Investments, LLC, Agent Robbie Moore addresses Jonesboro City Council members about plans to build a funeral home on property his company owns on Ga. Hwy. 54.
Proponents of a proposed funeral home won an unofficial battle with a prominent Jonesboro family and a local historical society, Monday, over the use of a small plot of land, with possible historical significance, on Ga. Hwy. 54.
In a two-part vote, the Jonesboro City Council voted 3-2 to annex 10.45 acres of land on the highway, and they voted 4-1 to re-zone the land from neighborhood/residential, to commercial property, with a conditional use permit so a funeral home could be built on it.
Members of the Huie family, and representatives of Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., had previously said they wanted the property preserved because it may contain a piece of the Battle of Jonesborough battlefield.
The property, which is owned by Weisbaden Investments, LLC, sits right next to land the Huie family owns, where Civil War artifacts and evidence of battle trenches have been found. The contested property, located at 8968 Fayetteville Road, also contains some springs, which Historical Jonesboro officials contend is likely filled with Creek Indian artifacts.
“We regret that we were not ensured an opportunity [to study the property’s historical significance], but we believe they will work with us to satisfy the question,” said a demure Barbara Emert, the president of Historical Jonesboro.
The approval of the annexation and re-zoning request means the proposed funeral home’s owner — whom Weisbaden Investments officials declined to identify — could apply for construction permits immediately, to begin building the facility, according to Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day.
She said the city gave Clayton County officials 37 days to respond to the town’s announcement of annexation and re-zoning plans. That is more than the 30-day minimum notice that Georgia Law requires, the mayor added. She said the city received no response from county officials.
“As far as I know, it’s a done deal,” Day said.
In the week leading up to Monday’s decision, the question of whether the funeral home would be allowed appeared to be an issue of development versus history. Neither side argued against annexation of the land. It was the re-zoning issue that proved to be a point of contention.
David Harris, the attorney for Weisbaden Investments, largely steered clear of the battlefield issue in his remarks to councilmembers. He did tell them, however, that the investment company did not want a fight on its hands. “There’s been a little bit of media hype on this event,” he said. “We’re not here to start a battle, or a fight along those lines. We’re just asking the city to consider this re-zoning, and this annexation request.”
Harris said Weisbaden officials felt there was a need for another funeral home in Jonesboro, even though there are already close to a handful of such businesses in the small town. The attorney said the funeral home would occupy an 8,000-square-foot building, and no cremations would take place at the site.
“As much as none of us want to admit it, the population in the county is aging,” Harris said. “Unfortunately, because of that phenomena, this business is necessary. One of the figures I saw indicated there were approximately 2,100 deaths in this county last year. One of the leading funeral homes [Pope Dixon and Sons Funeral Home], as you probably all know, recently closed .... So, we think this facility would be an asset.”
Members of the Huie family told councilmembers that much of the former battlefield has been developed with homes and businesses, and they asked that this particular area be given some sort of reprieve from similar development. “Is there not a possibility of putting this funeral home in a different place, instead of taking up more land?” Mariam Huie-Jolly asked councilmembers.
Jonesboro business owner John Crane said he was not so sure the land was part of a Civil War battlefield, however. He explained the property was once land that another prominent Jonesboro clan — the Mundy family — used as farmland, and that he could not find any Civil War relicts on the site when he visited it recently. Crane encouraged the council to approve the annexation and re-zoning request.
“I’ve looked for Civil War relicts for over 30 years, and I can’t find anything that jumped out at me to show any indication that there were any trenches or bunkers there,” he said. “The only thing that was visible was irrigation ditches related to agricultural farming, and agricultural practices.”
Councilmembers Bobby Wiggins and Pat Sebo voted against the annexation, saying they wanted to postpone a decision on the issue until Historical Jonesboro could have the land investigated.
“We need to have an opportunity for the historical society to just check and make sure we are doing the right thing,” Sebo said. “I would hate to have them come in and start moving the earth, and suddenly discover that we’ve disturbed an area that we should have left alone.”
Councilmember Clarence Mann later voted against the re-zoning request, saying he felt he did not have enough information to support it.