Wednesday, June 06, 2007

TOP STORY >>Planner resigns, says city

Leader staff writer

A lifelong resident of Jacksonville who recently spent two years as chairman of the city’s planning commission believes inconsistencies have hurt the city dearly.

“We’ve allowed some things, then we’ve not allowed those things,” Mark Stroud said. “And that makes developers leery of coming and working with the city.”

The former chairman quickly added that the planning commission has done a better job of being proactive over the past few years, but really stubbed its toes on the townhouse issue last year.

Last year, developer Tim McClurg came to the commission with a sketch plan to build townhouses on the west side of Main Street, west of Emma Street. The commission turned down the sketch plan. “But we (the commission) told him verbally what changes needed to be done for us to accept the idea. It was understood that when he came back with the changes that we were going to accept it,” Stroud said.

McClurg came back with the changes, and the commission turned it down again.

“We indirectly promised him something and then yanked it away. That’s how developers lose confidence in us,” Stroud said.
He blames part of the problem on politics.

“We can always vote the will of the people who show up at the meetings. We have to look at what is good for the whole city. We have to look 20 years ahead, not at just who is at a meeting,” Stroud said.

Stroud, who is moving and resigned last month from the commission, believes the commission needs to gain a better understanding of townhouses before the issue comes up again.

“Townhouses are not apartments, but individual homes that happen to be right up against each other. The format gives the developer the density he needs to make a successful investment, and the owners pay into an association that pays for the upkeep of the grounds. You have houses with low maintenance that are aesthetically pleasing,” Stroud said.

He believes there is a niche in the local market for townhouses, and “that need is not being addressed,” he says.

Stroud says townhouses are a good buy for retired persons, busy single-parent families, young families and busy single individuals as well.

In mid-September, McClurg took his townhouse plan to the commission for the third time in less than year, trying to get some version approved.

His plan called for 25 single-family homes to serve basically as a buffer between Western Hills subdivision and then 34 townhouses to be built on the western side of McClurg’s planned subdivision. The townhouses would have had minimum square footage of 1,200 feet.

“I’m not building something that will hurt my home sales. This is something good for Jacksonville and good to have on its Main Street,” McClurg said.

But a room full of opposition caused the commission to once against side against McClurg. As chairman, Stroud had no vote unless there was a tie.