By Tia Lynn Ivey
Tensions flared at the Madison Mayor and City Council work session last Friday, when the council unanimously voted to go into executive session to discuss one of two competing zoning text amendments surrounding Planned Residential Developments (PRDs) within the Historic District. The first 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.
City Attorney Joe Reitman recommended that the council move into an executive session, which is closed to the public, to discuss the first amendment due to “the threat of litigation. This angered proponents of the competing amendment who wanted the discussion to remain public. Elizabeth Bell, one of the advocates for abolishing PRDs in the Historic District, accused the city council of engaging in an unlawful closed meeting.
“There is no threat of litigation here and this is an illegal executive session,” said Bell. James Orr, Celia Murray, and attorney Chuck Dorr, also in attendance at Friday’s meeting, objected to the council’s retreat into executive session as well. However, Reitman stood by his recommendation, and the council adjourned for a brief executive session. The Council then resumed the public meeting to discuss the other text amendment proposed which seeks to remove any possibility for PRDs in residential sectors of the Historic District.
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 council questioned Reitman and city staff about the consequences of adopting either text amendment proposal. If the council were to approve Dorr’s text amendment proposal and abolish PRDs in the Historic District, Reitman and City Planner Director Monica Callahan pointed out that the council would be stripping themselves of their legislative discretion for all future PRDs proposed in the future.
City Councilman Joe DiLetto was displeased with how the public discourse surrounding this decision has been conducted and asked attendees to resist the urge to mischaracterize the issue. “I hear so many rumors that are hurtful, so many rumors that are so illegitimate that it’s incredible. Spread truth. Don’t help spread rumors, “said DiLetto. “There is a bunch of stupid falsehoods out there that does not accelerate this process, nor does it do you or us any good.”
The Madison Mayor and City Council is slated to make a decision on these two proposed text amendments that will seal the fate of PRDs in the Historic District at the next regular meeting on Monday, Dec. 12 at 5:30. The meeting will be held in the City’s Meeting Hall located at 160 North Main Street Suite 400 in Madison.
“We have an important decision to make,” said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman.