Residents of Tupelo’s enduring and popular Joyner neighborhood, a haven for families and households of many different ages, incomes and sizes, voted decisively late last week in favor of a conservation overlay district to help stabilize and expedite recovery from the April 28 tornado.
Scores of Joyner’s residences, churches and its iconic elementary school on Joyner Avenue suffered extensive damage, but relatively few injuries and no deaths were reported in the EF-3 tornado that inflicted millions of dollars in damages as it swept across Tupelo from southwest to northeast.
The vote held in the community life center of St. Luke United Methodist Church came out 80 percent in favor of the overlay, a method used before in Tupelo’s renewal processes.
The vote doesn’t change or enact anything. That’s the responsibility of the Tupelo City Council, which is expected to approve the district designed to uphold the standards – translated into architectural and structural renewal – that Joyner needs to retain and enhance its status as a preferred place to make a life.
Joyner has developed arguably Tupelo’s strongest neighborhood structure, the Joyner Neighborhood Association.
Its members have shown an unusual ability to disagree, sometimes strongly, but move ahead because of loyalty to the Joyner district and what it has consistently provided since its development after World War II.
Joyner residents met as an association only four days after the storm. Some participants were living in damaged houses without electricity, some had been displaced, and some wanted to expedite repairs and restorations with an assurance of uniform quality.
A five-member commission/design review board created by the overlay ordinance will review all plans for restoration, repairs and rebuilding. The requirements, especially backed by a strong vote of the neighborhood’s residential electors, should lead to relatively fast work of uniform quality.
Joyner Neighborhood Association president Keith Kantack said at the first Joyner meeting in the days following the tornado, “This is pure community involvement. I don’t think this happens everywhere in America.”
The residents’ decision for their neighborhood should guide the City Council in an expedited decision.
Joyner residents’ widespread passion for their neighborhood, some across several decades and multiple houses, should become instructive for other neighborhoods damaged in the tornado.
Joyner’s residents have exercised their will with the conservation vote; next comes empowering the way they want a renewed neighborhood to thrive and endure.