By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – While Joyner neighborhood residents quickly established an overlay district to protect the integrity of their homes after the tornado, many permits were approved before the district took effect.
Close to 20 percent of the neighborhood received building permits between the April 28 tornado and when the overlay district regulations took effect on July 3. Of the neighborhood of roughly 700 homes, 127 building permits were issued during that time. Only nine have been issued since July 3.
The overlay district prohibits property owners from receiving building permits until a five-member design review committee of residents approves plans, assuring that rebuilding fits into the area’s character and personality prior to the storm.
The 127 permits for the heaviest-damaged Tupelo neighborhood have no restrictions for what property owners rebuild beyond set-back requirements and basic safety regulations.
“The large number of permits issued before July 3 are somewhat of a concern for me if those folks don’t build in a manner to what Joyner had been,” said Keith Kantack, president of the Joyner Neighborhood Association.
However, he said he doesn’t think residents are trying to beat the system and people were simply trying to move quickly to rebuild their homes.
Residents of Sharon Hills face a comparable situation with 19 permits issued prior to creation of a second and similar overlay district. The city has approved one permit since creating the Sharon Hills overlay district on July 15.
A third neighborhood overlay district in Bel Air should exist later this month. Permit numbers were not available from the city Friday.
Few people have complaints about the city’s response to residents’ pleas for help.
The City Council approved Joyner’s overlay district just a month after the neighborhood association voted to support it by an 80 percent margin.
“We’re fortunate that we had city leaders who moved so quickly,” said longtime Joyner resident Leslie Mart.
There’s a belief among residents the neighborhood will stay on track even without oversight because the area is attractive, even with so many trees gone.
Ed Neelly, a residential property appraiser and member of the design review committee, said he hasn’t encountered anyone with a hostile attitude toward the community approach to tornado recovery.
“I just haven’t seen a circumstance of anybody trying to skirt the issue,” he said. “They’re genuinely concerned about the neighborhood.”
But that’s not to say construction out of line with what longtime Joyner residents recognize hasn’t happened. Many have complained about houses with metal roofs, which didn’t exist in the area prior to the tornado. And there’s also one tall, white, metal building along Clayton Avenue that is out of place.
But neighborhood leadership say new construction not enhancing the area will be very limited.
“I don’t think there were very many folks out trying to beat the date of enforcement because they wanted to sidestep it,” Kantack said.
Still, Kantack and Neelly keep receiving the calls about the workshops and sheds popping up in backyards throughout Joyner, even though some simply replace similar structures destroyed months ago.
During a neighborhood association meeting Thursday, residents discussed the answer – landscaping, patience and belief in recovery.
Mature trees may take two decades or so to return, but faster growing shrubs and other options can improve aesthetics relatively soon. Next month, a landscape specialist with Mississippi State University’s Extension Service will share tips and insight with the neighborhood.
“I don’t think it will take that long,” Mart said. “We’re trying to help the neighbors.”