Views of old Jacksonville School will be preserved

JACKSONVILLE — Preserving views of the historic Jacksonville School as the campus around it is developed has become the challenge for the city's Historic and Architectural Review Commission.

Planning commissioners gave approval for the Bigham Knoll project last week, but imposed a number of conditions including the view issue, which they said was HARC's decision. They also addressed parking and noise concerns related to outdoor events.

Mel and Brooke Ashland are renovating the old school and adjacent structures to house their investment firm, a German restaurant and other offerings. They also propose three new buildings for an inn, a combination spa and gym, and event receptions. Those buildings would lie south of the school in the last remaining view not compromised by newer construction.

"I think everything was a good compromise and there was nothing we were unhappy with," said Brooke Ashland.

"Commissioners were concerned about the view," said Daryl Witmore, assistant planner. "They felt if they stated ... the buildings should be no taller than so many feet, it might be giving too much direction to HARC."

HARC deliberates to retain the historical flavor of the town and to approve final details of project appearance, while the planning commission deals with broader issues of site uses, explained City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen. Unlike design review boards in other cities, HARC approvals have legal standing in the historic town, Wyntergreen said.

HARC is scheduled to review plans for the German restaurant at its April 23 meeting. Historic Preservation Officer L. Scott Clay hopes to review the three proposed buildings at the same time.

"It's difficult for a commission to continually have pieces brought to them," said Clay. "It's better to have them sit down and look at the collective aspects of the property rather than going building by building."

"It could happen, but we really want to do the inn and the spa right," said Brooke Ashland, referring to the April meeting. "We own the old school. It's not in our best interest to put up something that impedes the view."

Comments on Bigham Knoll would be inappropriate before a HARC meeting on the new buildings, said Commission Chair Jerrold Hagstrom.

"We are very sensitive to viewsheds and access to views of historic buildings, so I know it will be an issue," said Hagstrom. "The parameters are pretty well laid out. We'll have some good direction to go by."

The City Council approved zoning standards from the historic downtown commercial district for Bigham Knoll last fall. The knoll is surrounded by residential zoning. Residents voiced concerns about some aspects of the development at the planning commission meeting last week, said Jerry Ferronato, commission chairman. Commissioners unanimously approved the project.

Under the approval, the city could require an audio analysis of music and sound systems at events once a year. Outdoor events other than restaurant dining must end by 10 p.m. except for Fridays and Saturdays, when they can run to 11 p.m. Notice of outdoor events must be given at least a week in advance.

An analysis of traffic and parking also could be required annually. The commission reduced the number of parking and bicycle spaces required under zoning regulations.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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