By Tia Lynn Ivey
The fate of Planned Residential Developments (PRDs) may be doomed within the Historic District of Madison. Last week, the Madison Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC), a recommending body only, voted to deny a text amendment to the City Zoning Ordinance that would have simplified the approval process for PRDs in the residential areas of the Historic District. The PZC then approved a second request to prohibit any future PRDs from happening in the Historic District. Both of these recommendations will go before the Madison Mayor and City Council for a final decision.
The PZC meeting last Thursday evening was packed with almost 100 people who came to voice their opposition to the proposed text amendment, filed by an Atlanta law firm, Smith, Gambrell, and Russell (SGR), which sought to revise a rezoning procedure mandating a Certificate of Occupancy from the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) before the PZC could review an application. This is what stalled the controversial Foster Street Development project from being reviewed by the commission. Developers Brad and Edward Good, whose plans for a subdivision to be built on Foster Street in the Historic District were thwarted by this previously unenforced mandate in the city’s current zoning ordinance. The developers were seeking to rezone the 12-plus acre property that features the historic Foster-Thomason-Miller house on Main Street to facilitate the development of a brand new 37-house residential subdivision with an entryway on Foster Street. The project has been fiercely opposed by residents in the Historic District who fear the development will be “too dense” for the area, cause traffic congestion, parking problems, noise, potentially decrease property values in the Historic District, and diminish local tourism. Local residents objected to SGR’s text amendment request, fearing it would disempower the HPC and resurrect the Foster Street Development project.
“This has got to come through that filter. [The HPC] is the organization that has protected the Historic District, which is the lifeblood of this town,” said Chuck Dorr, a local resident and attorney representing some of the other Historic District residents. “Make no mistake, this text amendment is custom made for that [Foster Street] development. The items in it are the problems they had. It’s to pave the way for that development that could not get through this process before. Their purpose is to disarm and disable the HPC and disassociate it with the planning and zoning process.”
The SGR lawyers argued that the process mandated in the Madison Zoning Ordinance was too cumbersome and costly in addition to the fact that The City did not enforce this rule prior to the Foster Street Development project proposal.
“This is not, by any means an easy thing to do. The degree of difficulty is almost impossible to describe,” said and SGR lawyer about the City’s requirement to obtain a COA before the Planning and Zoning Commission could review a rezoning request. “I don’t think this is what is intended from the Mayor and City Council. If the ordinance is applied as written, which it hasn’t been in over 15 years, there would never be any rezoning in the Historic District at all…All we want to do is match the city’s procedure to the practice they have had all along…This text amendment would not remove the HPC from the process, the HPC would still have to pass off on the entire project. We would still have to jump through every hoop the HPC throws at us…right down to the doorknobs.”
But the PZC was not persuaded and unanimously voted to deny SRG’s proposed text amendment. Then the PZC followed up their decision with another unanimous vote to recommend approval for a request to remove PRDs entirely from the Historic District and prohibits any flexibility for the Mayor and City Council to approve any.
“It has a title wave of support for this—over 200 signatures for this amendment,” said James Orr, who filed the request to remove PRDs from the residential areas of the Historic District. “We are tired of fighting developers who want to come into Madison and exploit the Historic District…we should settle this once and for all now.”
“Maybe [PRDs] would be better suited elsewhere in the city,” said PZC member Herb Anderson, who made a motion to approve Orr’s request. “The economic engine of the Historic District is something we strive to preserve.”
Both text amendment proposals will go before the Madison Mayor and City Council, who will decide between these competing goals for the Historic District of Madison.