Madison City Council to take its time on controversial issue

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

Two controversial zoning text amendments were tabled last Monday at the Madison Mayor and City Council Meeting. For the first time, opposing parties have requested competing amendments to alter the City’s Zoning Ordinance. One amendment aims to clarify the approval process for Planned Residential Developments (PRDs) within the Historic District and the other seeks to abolish PRDs altogether from residential neighborhoods within the Historic District.  Last month, the Madison Planning and Zoning Commission, an advisory board only, recommended denying PRD clarification request and approving the elimination of PRDs request. But the City Council was not as eager to follow the PCZ recommendation, at least not yet.

“I can tell you both have done your homework on this,” said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman. “I would like to make a recommendation to table this until our next work session, to give this council the time to think this through and make the best possible decision for the citizens of Madison… We don’t want this to be a hasty decision…because this will affect the City of Madison for years to come.”

Though both text amendment requests are independent proposals that would affect policy throughout the entire historic district, both text amendments originated out one project proposed on Foster Street. Earlier this year, developers Brad and Edward Good, whose plans for a subdivision to be built on Foster Street in the Historic District were thwarted by a 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. The project stalled after the opposition pointed out a mandate in City’s Zoning Ordinance that mandated rezoning applicants acquire a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) before the Madison Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) could review the application. Good’s law firm, Smith, Russell and Gambrell (SRG), filed a request to alter the City’s Zoning Ordinance to reflect the city’s practice before the Foster Street Project.

The opposition, represented by local attorney Chuck Dorr, filed its own text amendment request seeking to remove the City Council’s latitude to allow for any PRDs in the residential zones of the Historic District.

SRG argued that city’s zoning ordinance was too costly for developers to acquire a COA before their applications could be reviewed by the PZC. Dorr and other opponents argued SRG wanted to strip the Historic Preservation Commission’s (HPC) role in the rezoning process. They opposition pled their case to do away with PRDs within residential zones of the Historic District to protect current residents from having to keep fighting developers who want to come and in and build overly dense subdivisions. They claimed PRDs pose a liability to the city by opening themselves up to potential lawsuits from developers who are denied and that approved PRDs in residential zones of the Historic District would take away from the city’s tourism appeal as well as disturb neighborhood tranquility. 

“[SRG] is not here out of the goodness of [they’re] hearts, but here to pave the way for high density development and to diminish the vital role the HPC plays in overseeing the development of the Historic District,” said James Orr to the council Monday evening.

Kathy Zickert, a lawyer for SRG, denied Orr’s claims, clarifying that if her text amendment was approved, developers would still be subject to the HPC, the PZC and ultimately the discretion of the Madison Mayor and City Council.

“This changes none of that,” said Zickert.

“The accusation that we are trying to do away with HPC’s role is erroneous and false,” said Brad Good. “The HPC would still be involved every step of the way. We would still need approval from the HPC before even one shovel of dirt is turned.”

City Council members had concerns with Orr’s text amendment request, fearing that eliminating PRDs entirely could hurt other neighborhoods within the Historic District that could benefit from PRDs.

“It feels like you want us to throw the baby out with the bathwater if we do what you are asking us to,” said City Councilwoman Chris Hodges.

The Mayor and City Council pledged to review the many materials submitted to them Monday evening and to readdress the matter at the next work session on Friday, December 2 at 8:30 a.m. in the City Meeting Hall located at 160 North Main Street, Suite 400. No decisions will be made until the next regular meeting on Monday, Dec. 12. At 5:30 p.m.

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