by Robin Kemp

UPDATE: clarifies “apartments” sted “condos”; adds photo of drawing initials–RK

UPDATE 5 p.m.: adds Clark response

UPDATE: 5:40 p.m.: Historic Commission unanimously approves second complex; adds Washington’s degree

The City of Jonesboro Historic Preservation Commission has unanimously approved a second set of modern apartments, these to be built atop Arts Clayton on historic South Main Street, with construction on the former Simple Pleasures roof site as soon as the first of the year.

The Clayton Crescent was not allowed into the online meeting until 5:32 p.m., after it had begun, despite having logged in before the announced 5:30 p.m. start time.

For the record, the meeting took place Monday, December 21 at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/2148237355

Enter meeting ID 214 823 7355
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It’s the latest episode in a controversial plan to modernize downtown Jonesboro, one that has ties to a real-life reality show, by adding high-end residences atop Arts Clayton at 136 S. Main Street; a former storefront at 128 South Main Street; and possibly other buildings along the strip.

The commission approved a certificate of appropriateness for the Arts Clayton apartment development at today’s meeting and renewed a certificate of appropriateness for the 128 S. Main Street location that had expired on December 15.

Jonesboro Community Development Director David Allen said the expired certificate needed an extension because the team at Washington Design Group, LLC “had some decisions to be made.” He did not specify what those decisions were during the meeting.

Allen said the Arts Clayton apartments would be “of the exact same design as the ones y’all approved in June in terms of the color and the material and the style.” Instead of four apartments and a 45-feet, 7-inches height, he said, the second development would contain 10 to 12 apartments and be 42 feet high. (Arts Clayton’s facade is taller than the old Simple Pleasures facade.)

“128 was sticking pretty far up in the air,” Allen said. “This will soften that.”

Board members Jule Segner and Brett Bolden agreed. Bolden said the addition to 128 S. Main Street “seemed to stick out like a sore thumb,” adding the second addition would create “greater uniformity.”

Segner asked how the glass and steel materials adhered to historic preservation rules.

“They do not,” Allen said, saying the materials “are more in the spirit of reinterpreting things and in the spirit of Broad Street,” the revamped pedestrian mall nearing completion behind the historic assemblage. “It’s a mix of modern and historic.”

Andrew Washington, who is managing the project and who did the artists’ renderings submitted to the city, said he and his architect/engineer/design staff would be doing both developments.

“It’s really not that big of a project,” he said. “It just looks massive.”

Andrew A. Washington of Washington Designs, LLC

Washington owns Washington Designs, LLC, the company putting together the developments. His company is licensed to do business in the state of Georgia. He also submitted the Main Street conceptual designs, which bear his initials as the person who drew them.

Washington is not registered with the State of Georgia as an architect. In 2007, an investigation involving Washington, who came up with the Main Street designs, had been brought before the Georgia State Board of Architects and Interior Designers, allegedly for practicing architecture without a license. The board voted to accept a signed voluntary cease and desist order from Washington.

One of three design options for 128 S. Main Street by Washington Design Group, LLC that show “AW” as the person who drew up the plans. No architect’s seal appears on any of the three plans attached to the Jonesboro Historic Preservation Commission’s December 21, 2020 agenda packet.

Washington’s LinkedIn shows he earned a Bachelor of Architecture from Mississippi State University. He is not licensed by the State of Georgia as an architect, nor is he registered with the state as a residential or general contractor. He is not a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

In 2011, Washington drew attention for his work on a home that “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star Sheree Whitfield wanted to have built. Gossip columns “Straight from the A” and “TamaraTattles.com,” which followed the show made allegations that Washington had, in their words, “falsified” architect’s seals that are required on drawings. Links to the Secretary of State’s Office that the columnists cited as evidence returned 505 webpage errors. The Clayton Crescent contacted the state board to confirm whether this were true but was told the documents were not public. Board minutes indicate that four investigations, one of which appears to be of Washington, took place during an executive session, making those documents exempt from Georgia’s Open Records Act but subject to judicial review.

Washington did not return several requests in recent months to confirm or deny the allegations.

In response to an earlier version of this story, Clark accused The Clayton Crescent of racially-motivated coverage and asked why the same questions had not been asked of other projects. (No other projects have proposed placing modern construction atop historic buildings.)

In his December 21 e-mail response, Clark said, “Stamped plans are not required until permitting. Developers would never put together complete sets until all internal approvals are complete. What you are looking at are conceptual renderings – that is all our internal boards ever receive.  I am not certain the slant to any of this, or maybe I am; however, law does not require stamped drawings until an official submittal for permitting. The only thing that is available now are conceptual renderings of the future development….He [Washington] can’t submit plans that are not stamped by an architect or an engineer. It’s really simple, you cannot start any construction until all of your plans are signed off on (Fire Marshal, Safebuilt & City Manager).”

The Clayton Crescent had requested information from Clark about the architect’s stamp and when it would be due in the process on July 22. Clark did not respond at that time. The Clayton Crescent reiterated that request in its response to Clark’s December 21 e-mail. We will update when that information becomes available.

Award-winning architect Joel Aviles

Joel Aviles, who is a licensed architect and who donated time for the award-winning Lee Street Park design, resigned as chair of the Design Review Commission after the board, with some prodding from City Manager Ricky Clark, approved Washington’s proposal to punch four holes in the roof of the historic structure to accommodate support beams. At the time, Clark told board members that they had already provided input as to building cosmetics and that the board should leave the final say on the project’s substance up to the City Council.

The plan for 128 would include a first-floor restaurant in the former retail space, topped by four lofts at about 1,050 square feet each, on two new floors above the existing structure: “Access to the lofts would be via an elevator in the first-floor lobby. The lofts on the second and third floors would have balconies overlooking the downtown, and would use much glass and steel beams,” Clark wrote.

Clark also wrote, “The architect has provided 3 rendered options for the front of the building. The main difference between them is the color that the existing brick would be painted.” It’s not clear from the memo what architect provided the three drawings that cite Washington as the person who drew them.

As for the proposed changes to the Arts Clayton building at 136, “The existing storefront on the first floor will mostly retain its original design and material (brick), with similar colors to the adjacent Fig Tree Café. However, the addition of the loft apartments on top is clearly an issue of strict preservation versus modern renovation and reinterpretation. The look of the loft is aligned with the same vision as the renovation of the Broad Street / Firehouse Museum, which was approved by both the Design Review Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission. It would be a good example of transitional architectural infill. The lofts also are in alignment with the Jonesboro LCI (Livable Centers Initiative) goals of bringing modern, high quality housing to the downtown area, as part of the ‘work here, live here, play here’ philosophy.”

The drawings submitted for the 128 Main Street project include the notation “Drawn by: AW” and “Checked by: KE” but do not bear an architect’s stamp. The Clayton Crescent has submitted a request for more information to City Manager Ricky Clark, asking who the architect was, whether that was K.E., and why the documents did not bear an architect’s seal. Clark had not responded by Monday afternoon.

Aviles had taken issue with Washington’s failure to incorporate an elevator to accommodate disabled persons (Washington said it would have taken away from floor space) and to use pipe-and-chain-type emergency ladders in place of attached fire escapes.

In October, The Clayton Crescent asked Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services whether it had received any request to review plans for the first proposed condo. CCFES said then that it had not received any such requests. On the day of the meeting, Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal David Vazquez confirmed that, as of press time, CCFES still had not received a request.

In a memo attached to Monday’s agenda packet, Clark argued that, because the individual building at 128 S. Main Street was not listed on the National Register and because Arts Clayton’s building already had been shortened, it would be acceptable to add one or more modern structures atop the rest of the block:

“While not on the Historic Register, the building unit, like the others around it, is recognized as a historically contributing structure for the City. However, many of the buildings in the downtown district have undergone significant alterations through the years, including reducing the height of the adjacent Arts Clayton building and the extensive revitalization of the Broad Street renovation at the rear of the subject property….the future of this row of buildings, if the downtown renovation is successful, will likely involve more vertical additions, making this proposed addition less prominent. Obviously, the intent of this design proposal does not meet many of the design requirements of Section 86-102, or the Secretary of the Interior design requirements.”

Photo of the Main Street Historic District on file with the National Register of Historic Places

The assemblage, or the entire group of buildings, is what is listed on the National Register. Specifically, the Department of the Interior, lists the strip of Main Street buildings in downtown Jonesboro as being of local historical signficance. Preservation experts say the strongest protection for sites of local historical value comes from local control.

This gives the Historic Preservation Commission enormous power to protect the character of the strip of early 20th-century retail buildings. It also means that, should members choose not to protect or restore the assemblage, its historic character will be severely compromised. In August 1971, the city passed a zoning amendment designating Jonesboro’s Historic District, which includes the S. Main Street business assemblage: “being the old part of town, and that part containing a concentration of historic buildings….provisions [were] made for the preservation of historic structures, and guidelines [were] offered for new construction to be designed in a manner compatible with the old.” Historical Jonesboro, Inc. also had planned “the preservation and restoration of many of these buildings, and the encouragement and preservation of other buildings by individual interests.”

Description of the Main Street assemblage listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of the buildings date from Reconstruction: “None have been properly restored, and several have been modernized.”

However, 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 preservation funding.

Last September, the city revised the wording of an architectural style and scale ordinance that opened the door for the proposed S. Main Street additions.

Balancing historic value with economic development is a struggle that other municipalities in Clayton County are facing. At press time, one older one-story retail structure–a former radio and television shop– along Forest Park’s dilapidated Main Street corridor had been demolished over the weekend, with another three-door brick storefront next to the city cemetery being town down Monday. Those structures were not listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jonesboro City Manager Ricky Clark, Jr. puts in a good word for Andrew Washington at 128 S. Main Street during the June 18 Design Review Committee meeting: “It seems like he’s been doing architecture a long time.”

Clark, who has been instrumental in much of the new construction downtown, has pushed hard for the Main Street condos. During a June 18 DRC meeting via Zoom, Clark was on the 128 S. Main Street site as Washington explained his vision for the structure, at one point urging the board to approve the plan so that council could vote on the height variance.

He also vouched for Washington’s design: “I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Washington and see some of Mr. Washington’s work, and I can assure you that, from what I’ve seen in imaging and [audio breaks up here] it seems like he’s been doing architecture a long time.”

Clark’s memo to the Historic Preservation Commission leaves out the heights of two buildings in a discussion of height variances:

“The addition of the lofts would basically double the height of the existing building to about 45 feet. (A variance for this height, over the maximum 35 feet allowed, will be heard in July.) Currently, the tallest buildings in this connecting row of downtown businesses are the T.A. Madden Building at xx feet, and the Lister/Holt Building at xx feet. However, the future of this row of buildings, if the downtown renovation is successful, will likely involve more vertical additions, making this proposed addition less prominent.”

Ultimately, it will be up to the citizens of Jonesboro to decide whether they want to preserve the historic character of South Main Street or add modern glass-and-steel-beams to the strip’s existing look. Few have made their voices heard in a public meeting.

Washington told Aviles during a discussion of the proposed rear overhang at the July meeting, “We’ll do the best we can to make it closer to the recommendations that you have.”

Construction is slated to start after January 1.

Read the entire description, with photos, of the Jonesboro Historic District at the U.S. Department of the Interior’s digitized National Register of Historic Places, https://s3.amazonaws.com/NARAprodstorage/lz/electronic-records/rg-079/NPS_GA/72000381.pdf.

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