Jacksonville City Council turns down historical commission
by Laura Gaddy
Sep 10, 2013 | 2960 views |  0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
JACKSONVILLE — Monday the Jacksonville City Council voted down an ordinance that would have established a city historical commission, with three members voting against the measure and two voting for it.

Dissenting members said they support historical preservation, but they weren’t ready to move forward with the measure as written because they thought it might give the commission too much authority. Council President Mark Jones said he supported the measure because he thinks that a historical commission could help the city hold on to what remains of its older structures.

“I think it was something that we needed,” Jones said.

Several Alabama cities, including Anniston, have historical commissions. Commissions are designed to ensure buildings in historic districts stay true to period. In those districts residents and business owners have to seek approval from commissions before making changes to the outside of their buildings.

Now that the push to establish a commission has failed, the council might shift gears and begin working on a measure that would give the Jacksonville Planning Commission the authority to regulate historic districts, council members said.

“We may revisit this with some modifications,” Jones said. “I’d like for us to.”

Jacksonville resident Jerry Klug has been trying to bring an historical commission to Jacksonville for more than two years. In recent months Klug and Councilman Jonathan Tompkins have worked together to draft the resolution that failed Monday.

Klug was not at the Monday meeting and attempts to reach him by phone were not successful late Monday, but others who supported the commission were there.

“I think it says we have a long way to go to move forward,” said Jerrod Brown, who owns historic homes in Jacksonville. “They had a real chance to do something that was progressive for the city and something that’s proven to be beneficial for other small towns, but I don’t know that they’ve got the vision.”

Another supporter, Joseph Munster, lives in Jacksonville’s mill village and serves on the board of Spirit of Anniston. He said he is currently working through Spirit of Anniston to help establish Anniston’s Noble Street as a historic district.

“It’s an economic development tool,” Munster said.

Councilman Truman Norred voted against the measure because he said parts of the resolution conflicted with state law, a concern that Mayor Johnny Smith also discussed. Smith said, for example, the city’s draft document stated the commission would not have had the authority to hire anyone, but the state code concerning historical commissions gives them the authority to pay employees.

“That would override anything we’re trying to do,” Norred said.

Before the votes at least one man, former Jacksonville councilman George Areno, stood to voice opposition to the establishment of the commission. Areno said it could result in restrictions that would be too stringent for residents.

Another man, Bruce Edmiston, stood to voice his support of the measure shortly after Areno. Edmiston, who owns property on Jacksonville’s square, said after the meeting that he was shocked by the council’s decision.

“It seems like they’re afraid of any complications,” said Edmiston, who has been living in Jacksonville for almost 30 years. “We’ve already lost so much.”

Council members did not say when they might start working on an alternative plan to encourage historic preservation.

The vote on the historical commission was the council’s first vote of the evening. In its last vote, which followed an extended executive session, the council gave the mayor the authority to make an offer to buy space formerly occupied by a fitness center south of the city’s square on Alabama 21. If the city is able to purchase the property, it could become the site of a new city hall, Jones said. The original price of the building was around $1 million, but the listed price has since fallen to about half of that.

Jones declined to say how much the city might offer to pay for the building.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.

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