Text amendment, variance pass despite concerns
By Tara DeRock Mahoney
Senior Staff Writer
Madison City Council approved a text amendment that will allow the sale of light trailers in the city and a variance that will allow off-site parking for a business on North Second Street. In both cases, the requests were approved over the concerns of council member Michael Naples, who cautioned the council against making precedent-setting decisions that were not in accordance with its own zoning laws.
In the case of the text amendment, Naples pointed out that the city just finished creating a new commercial zone because earlier zones had become “blurred.”
“It’s a philosophical point, but it’s worth noting,” said Naples. “We created the C-5 district because uses in other districts were blurred…I see this as going right back to where we were.”
Naples pointed out that the sale of the trailers in question were already permitted in C-4 and C-5 zones in the city; the approved text amendment now makes them a conditional use in C-3, as well.
Councilman Fred Perriman made the motion to approve the text amendment, which ultimately passed 3-2, with Naples and Councilman Whitey Hunt opposed.
“First and foremost, I’m glad to see a business…trying to thrive,” said Perriman. “I have no problem supporting this text amendment.”
“I wish we would deal with this very carefully,” said Naples.
In the case of the off-site parking, Naples again urged caution, noting that the applicants had purchased a new office building on Thompson Street knowing that they would need to obtain parking for more occupants of the building than could be accommodated in the driveway.
“We have an ordinance, and I think we need to follow it,” said Naples. Twice during the meeting the council reviewed a list of conditions under which variances can be granted by the city, according to its ordinances; Naples said that he felt those conditions had not been met vis-à-vis the off-site parking variance application.
Council member Rick Blanton disagreed with Naples.
“Sometimes I think common sense ought to prevail,” he said.
“I think we are putting ourselves in a very precarious position,” said Naples.
The variance was approved 4-1, with Naples opposing.
In other business, council members were unanimously supportive of the redevelopment of the former Simmons Funeral Home, located on the corner of East Washington and Hancock Streets downtown. The 13,000-square-foot facility is being re-envisioned by Liselott Johnsson and her husband, Jorge Armenteros, as a regional center for contemporary art; it will eventually comprise a gallery, café, artist and classroom space.
The project will take the look of the building back to the original façade appearance, that in evidence when it was the home of the Thompson Buggy Works. The renovation needs the imprimateur of the city council because the resulting balconies on the building will eventually encroach on the city’s right-of-way, as do other downtown facades; in exchange, the city will gain a sidewalk, trees, and some parallel parking along Hancock Street.
“We will be gaining one whole side of a street, streetscape that we have not had in a long, long time,” said city manager David Nunn.
The new art center is expected to be open by mid-2009.
The city also expects to extend a water line the length of Cox Road in the near future, increasing water service and fire protection in that neighborhood; it also expects to take on water customer International Paper in the coming months, after water lines to that site are complete.