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December 28, 2014

JSU leaders consider deal to expand campus

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Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 5:22 pm | Updated: 3:52 pm, Wed Jul 30, 2014.

Jacksonville State University leaders are discussing the possibility of buying land that would expand the perimeter of campus.

The property, near a residential area just north of Alabama 204 and just west of Alabama 21, belongs to the estate of the late Dr. Charles Strange, who practiced medicine in Jacksonville. JSU trustees discussed purchasing the land for $250,000 at a meeting on Monday, though no vote was taken. University representatives said, if acquired, the land may be used to protect the university's borders or for future growth.

The Strange estate owns six parcels of land just northwest of campus. Andrew Bolt, an attorney representing the Strange estate, said the university and the estate are discussing the sale of each of the six parcels near the university. A university representative, though, wrote in an email that the two parties are discussing the sale of two parcels, one on Cardinal Lane and one on Alabama 21. Some of the land owned by the estate borders Alabama 21, and two parcels include homes.

In an email, university officials declined to discuss the matter further, and noted that the deal had not been finalized.

There’s visible precedent for a growth policy that entails the university buying smaller parcels of land to add up to a larger whole. Ten years ago JSU was nearing the end of a long-term property acquisition south of campus on West Mountain Street. There, house by house, it obtained enough property for a stadium expansion project. Today Stadium Towers, a student dorm, and a large parking lot sit where there was once a small neighborhood.

Jay Jenkins is a member of the Anniston architectural firm Munroe Jenkins, which in recent years drafted a long-range growth and development plan for JSU through the year 2025. The plan called for a more pedestrian-friendly campus, Jenkins said.

If the university wants to stick to that plan, it might need more land for parking lots, Jenkins said. He added that if JSU increases enrollment, it could need more housing for students, and if it continues to add new programs, it may need more land for academic buildings.

Jenkins also said universities buy land near their borders for other reasons as well, including development, investment and smart growth.

"You want to control your environment around you," Jenkins said.

The land is zoned R1, a designation that typically limits development to single-family housing, golf courses and agriculture that is not commercial. According to city code, small government buildings, parks, golf courses, barns, kennels, churches, libraries, small residential buildings, public schools and home-based businesses may also be permitted in areas zoned R1 under some circumstances.

However, if JSU does obtain the land and decide to move forward with a building project, it will not be limited by city zoning requirements, nor will it have to obtain a city building permit or go through the Planning Commission review process. City Planner Lynn Causey said that’s because the university is an arm of the state, which is not subject to the city code.

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