Residents voice land swap concerns
by Laura Johnson
JACKSOVILLE — It was apparent during Tuesday’s Jacksonville City Council meeting that some residents are serious about historic preservation.

Near the end of the meeting Tuesday evening, more than half-a-dozen people stood to ask the council to preserve historic city structures. Some asked the members to preserve the old Eastwood School and the former Profile Mill, while others asked the city to establish a historic commission.

“It’s not either or; we would like both,” Jacksonville resident Ollie Noles said.

Some residents said the properties may be lost if the city moves forward with a proposed land swap with Jacksonville State University. As part of the property deal, JSU will give the city the Eastwood School and a wooded parcel of land at the northwest corner of Reynolds Street and Pelham Road North in exchange for the old mill. Officials with the university plan to use the mill to house its maintenance, building services and warehouse.

Councilman Mark Jones said the city is not poised to move forward with a decision concerning historic properties without careful consideration.

The council will hear JSU President Bill Meehan discuss the proposed land swap during a Feb. 25 work session.

Noles said he wants the city to retain the property to allow volunteers to restore it. He pointed out that two other historic properties, the Jacksonville train depot and the city’s historic doctor’s office, the Dr. Francis Museum, have been preserved through voluntary community cooperation.

Jones said city officials have a shared interest in the future of the properties.

“I think our interest is to get something going in both of those, instead of having them sit there,” Jones said.

Noles made two requests to the council. He asked to be given time to speak following Meehan’s remarks at the work session later this month, and he asked for a tour of the mill on the behalf of area residents who want to restore the property.

Each of the several speakers who followed Noles echoed his desire to preserve the historic properties. Several also said they don’t want the city to move forward with the proposed land swap.

“I don’t think the land swap is going to do either side the justice it is due,” area resident Matt Walz said. “We have something that we can cherish, that we can preserve.”

Area residents that support the establishment of a historic commission agreed, saying they believe the city must establish the regulatory commission to protect historic properties in the future. Long-time historic commission proponent Jerry Klug said he’s given the city a proposed ordinance to establish a commission, and he asked the council to approve it.

“I would encourage all of you to look at that language,” Klug said. “It is vetted and it has been taken through a lot of legal processes in dozens of cities throughout the state.”

Jacksonville Mayor Johnny Smith said the city has no immediate plans to include a vote concerning the historic commission on a formal City Council agenda. However, the council is likely to discuss establishing a historic commission at the next informal work session, Smith said.

Staff Writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @ LJohnson_Star.
© 2013