by Robin Kemp

The City of Jonesboro has approved a modern apartment construction project, that would tower over 47 feet above the sidewalk, atop one of Main Street’s historic buildings. No member of the public commented at the hearing Monday, July 13.

The plan adds four luxury apartments and grants a height variance to 128 S. Main Street, formerly the site of Simple Pleasures Gift Shop. The project includes five reserved spaces on S. Main Street.

The existing street-level shop would become a 44-seat vegan restaurant, the second within Historic Downtown Jonesboro, given Slutty Vegan‘s opening a few blocks away at 164 N. McDonough St. on July 11. A crafts studio would be located in the basement of the building, which is located next to Arts Clayton, according to the application for conditional variance. The city notes that “The building is part of the connected storefronts in the downtown core, between the Arts Clayton Gallery and Fig Tree Café. The property is zoned H-1, Historic District.”

A corporation called 128 S Main Street LLC bought the property for $150,000 on Aug. 19, 2019. Corporate papers filed with the Georgia Secretary of State name Charles Wesco as the registered agent, with an address at the UPS Store on Eagles Landing Parkway in Stockbridge.

Councilwoman Pat Sebo moved to approve the conditional use, seconded by Councilman Powell. There was no discussion and the vote to approve was unanimous. On the height and materials variances, Sebo moved to approve and Powell seconded, and the council again voted unanimously to grant the variances.

City Manager Ricky Clark then asked Mayor Joy Day if the council could go back over these and several other agenda items and take the vote again.

“Mayor Day, before we move on, Mr. (David) Allen, there were several of these zoning items that had conditions imposed on them,” Clark said.

“Yes, they were enumerated last week,” Day said, “but do we need to re-enumerate them?”

“My fear is, with us just approving the agenda item, it’s not taking into consideration those actual further conditions that we imposed,” Clark said. “Now, if the understanding of mayor and council is that you are approving the item accepting staff recommendations, then I think that’s fine. I just think that we’ve got to make sure that we get those conditions in.”

“I’ll add a caveat to that: the applicant shall work with the city to ascertain an appropriate amount for that parking space per month,” Clark said. Other conditions included the apartments having ten-foot high ceilings; concealing the fire escape ladder from street view; floor plans for front and rear balconies, exterior building materials and color schemes shall be according to the plan presented to Council on July 6; and the city council will specify the total building height “in any approved variance.”

Councilwoman Donya Sartor asked for clarification on the parking fee. “Could we not make that something taxable or something? Because I don’t want the parking to be contingent on occupancy. Those parking spaces are still going to be reserved.”

Day replied, “Correct me if I’m wrong, Mr. Clark — they are going to have the opportunity to have a designated parking space if they so desire. Like anyone living in a city, you either have a designated space or you take your best shot. Is that right, Mr. Clark?”

“You’re absolutely correct,” Clark said. “As it relates to, you’ll notice that in the condition that I added, I noted that the applicant will work with the city so that we can come up with those terms. We can’t charge tax. However, we can assess a flat fee to be determined by mayor and council for the five parking spaces that we would allot for this particular development.”

“You don’t do that for nobody else down there,” grumbled Councilman Bobby Lester as he sipped from a Zesto cup.

Regarding the variances, Allen said, “I want the mayor and council to understand that, with the ten-foot ceilings, you’re now approving a variance of 45 feet, four inches.”

“Right, we discussed that last week,” Day said. “It would be the ten-foot ceilings.”

Sebo said she had reviewed the minutes of Allen’s meeting with the Design Review Commission and Historic Jonesboro. “And I noticed that, initially, it was going to be even higher than 45 (feet), so I am definitely good with where we are on the 45. So I have no problem with that.”

The city’s Design Review Commission met June 15 to make recommendations on proposed changes to the interior and exterior of the building.

The July 6 City Council work session agenda listed John Taylor as the owner and Andrew Washington of Washington Design Group, LLC. The owner is seeking a variance “for maximum building height and use of predominantly wood as an exterior material in the Historic District for loft apartments.” (See pp. 81 – in the agenda packet.)

“Development and redevelopment in this district is intended to preserve and enhance the historic character of the area while promoting the goals of the Livable Centers Initiative Study.”

— City staff memo

The City of Jonesboro is not on the state Historic Preservation Division’s list of Certified Local Governments (CLGs). Any local government “that has enacted a historic preservation ordinance, enforces that ordinance through a local preservation commission, and has met requirements outlined in the Procedures for Georgia’s Certified Local Government Program is eligible to become a CLG.” That program helps local governments “with integrating historic preservation concerns into local planning decisions.”

It also opens the door to federal funds from Historic Preservation Grants, the chance to “review local nominations for the National Register of Historic Places prior to consideration by the Georgia National Register Review Board,” getting technical assistance, and improving “communication and coordination among local, state, and federal preservation activities.”

The city described the planned apartments as “above the restaurant, in two proposed additional floors. The apartments are intended to be high quality, a little over 1000 square feet each and with 9 to 10-foot tall ceilings. The apartments will have terraces in front overlooking the downtown area and terraces in the back overlooking the new Broad Street development. The restaurant on the ground floor, and the two new floors of loft apartments will be connected via an elevator, with a small lobby in the front.”

“The lofts align with the Future Development Map, which calls for a mix of office, residential, retail, and institutional in the downtown area. The lofts also align with the purpose of the H-1 District.”

The city gave this rationale for approving a conditional use permit:

“While the restaurant is a permitted use in the H-1 district, the lofts required a conditional use permit, with the following condition: Sec. 86-182. -Mixed family, including lofts. The following conditions are assigned in the H-1, H-2, O&I and C-1 districts: (1) No residential unit shall occupy a street level space. This condition can be met, as the restaurant is proposed for the existing ground level space…. The lofts align with the Future Development Map, which calls for a mix of office, residential, retail, and institutional in the downtown area. The lofts also align with the purpose of the H-1 District, in Section 86-102 (a): Purpose of district. The purpose of the H-1 historic district is to provide for retail and residential uses that benefit from close proximity to each other and that will generate pedestrian activity in the city’s traditional downtown core. Development and redevelopment in this district is intended to preserve and enhance the historic character of the area while promoting the goals of the Livable Centers Initiative Study. One of the tenets of the Livable Centers Initiative is to further foster the notion of ‘live here, work here, play here,’ particularly in the downtown area, and the loft apartments would certainly help with that goal.”

In 1980, the state gave local governments “the authority to designate historic properties and establish a design review process for their protection by means of local historic preservation ordinances and commissions,” according to Georgia’s current historic preservation plan. “As well as designating historic properties and districts, the commission functions as a design review board to make citizen-based decisions about the appropriateness of new design and changes to historic buildings to ensure they respect the historic character of a property and its setting.”

Photograph of Main Street Jonesboro as viewed from the old train depot, ca. 1972, submitted the National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places documentation, dated Jan. 20, 1972, of the Main Street Jonesboro photograph

Allison Asbrock, outreach coordinator for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Historic Preservation Division, said “Development requirements and regulations are a local planning function that is not contingent on National Register of Historic Places listing.” In short, “A National Register District Identifies; a Local District Protects,” according to HPD.  It is up to local boards to determine what constitutes an appropriate use of a historic site.

An undated 20th-century photo of Main Street Jonesboro. Part of the image showing Bama’s Soda appears on the Arcadia Publishing Images of America local history book titled “Jonesboro.” The Bama’s facade also is featured on a public art installation on the side of Arts Clayton.

Jonesboro’s Historic Preservation Commission considered the request at its June 15 meeting. The city has not posted HPC meeting minutes on its website since the January 21 meeting. Because of COVID-19, the City Council and other boards have been holding meetings online via Zoom.

The final version of the city’s Blueprint Jonesboro plan, approved in April, includes the following policies:

  • Ensure appropriate materials, design, and planning in new development, consistent with Historic Commission precedent
  • Protect historic structures and encourage their rehabilitation when feasible
  • Encourage renovation and revitalization of housing in older neighborhoods
  • Continue to emphasize nonresidential uses along Main Street in historic houses
  • Provide opportunities for aging in place
  • Promote the financial benefits of National Register designation of the downtown district
  • Coordinate with the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to acquire Certified Local Government Status

Blueprint Jonesboro also states that “Jonesboro’s historic architecture should be respected as future growth occurs” and that the city should “Promote the facade (improvement) grant program to encourage the restoration of building facades along Main Street,” as well as “leverage the unique architectural character of the rear of Jonesboro’s Main Street buildings.”

The Clayton Crescent has filed an Open Records Request with the City of Jonesboro for more information about the project.

Read the National Historic Preservation Act: https://bit.ly/2Zgcjyd

Learn how the Jonesboro Historic Preservation Commission handles applications for a Certificate of Appropriateness: https://bit.ly/38IcHZk

See Jonesboro’s original National Historic Landmark documentation: https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/dcecfbf8-79d2-4ea1-a71f-eb408a96c926/

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