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HZC changes tune on proposed courthouse plaza

What members of the Historic Zoning Commission had been calling the “crown jewel” of a downtown remodeling project appears to have lost its shine.
A courthouse plaza design, which would require the elimination of several parking spaces on Main Street to create a pedestrian friendly center of town, had HZC members divided at their Nov. 10 meeting. The plaza’s creation is part of a downtown streetscape plan proposed by a design consultation firm for the Town of Jonesborough.
In a meeting a month ago, members said they did not want the courthouse plaza to be constructed because it would eliminate parking spaces directly in front of several stores on Main Street across from the downtown courthouse.
However, the HZC changed its tune two weeks ago when member Mark Edmonds spoke up, saying the courthouse plaza was the “crown jewel” of the entire plan.
At that meeting, members discussed how the elimination of those parking spaces would not have too much impact on downtown customers, since most of the spots on Main Street are already rarely available.
Last week, HZC member and downtown business owner Joel Conger, who was absent at the previous meeting, questioned the commission’s change of opinion.
“This committee is supposed to help enhance the business community downtown,” Conger said. “If you start taking parking spaces away, you are taking away from the businesses. You are destroying Jonesborough.”
HZC member Ruth Verhegge, who was also absent from the last meeting, voiced opposition to the plaza proposal, too.
“Tractor trailers come in and make deliveries twice a week,” Verhegge said. “I’m really concerned about that space and them being able to get through.”
Members in favor of the plaza argued the elimination of those parking spaces would give businesses along that side of the street more exposure since vehicles would not be parked in front of the storefronts.
“When I go downtown, I never expect to get a parking place on Main Street,” said Mitzi Sobol, HZC member. “I don’t go to a store for the convenience of parking. I go to a store to buy something I want to buy.”
Conger argued the courthouse plaza was “taking away from the character of Jonesborough,” and, despite offering a nice gathering place, did not promise any increase in customer base for downtown businesses.
“Jonesborough needs a few more things downtown to keep people here,” Conger said. “(But) I want people down there buying stuff, too, and not just sitting there meeting.”
Conger and Verhegge were joined by HZC members William Stout and Emma Treadway in voting against the proposed courthouse plaza. Voting in favor of the plaza were Edmonds, Sobol and Nancy Hedberg. HZC member Steve Hutton was not in attendance.
Chairman William Kennedy compiled the HZC’s list of pros and cons for the project to forward to the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen as the BMA considers the overall streetscape plan for downtown.
The BMA is expected to look at the streetscape plan at its December meeting. There, town leaders will make modifications to the plan before returning it to the design consultant to create a final draft.
“The intent is for this to direct us in terms of what we do for the next 20 years in our town,” said Bob Browning, town administrator. “We should have a commitment to the merchants and the people who come to downtown, to do it as efficiently and as well planned as possible.”