By Tia Lynn Ivey
Residents of the Historic District in Madison interrupted City Council meeting last Monday while council members discussed the possibility of reinstating Planned Residential Developments (PRDs) as a development tool within the Historic District. Mayor Fred Perriman noted that PRDs were ultimately eliminated to a voting error made by Councilwoman Chris Hodges.
“The concern was raised that removing PRDs in the Historic District would eliminate a valuable tool for zoning in the Historic District, not to increase density, but to allow flexibility in placement of lots in a subdivision,” began Perriman. “We had a vote in December, but with a mix-up on the vote, so PRDs were eliminated due to this confusion. We had a special meeting in late December to address the mistake.”
Hodges emphasized the need to public input throughout the entire process.
“Somehow we have lost trust and maybe that was because of my unprofessional behavior in December. So, we need to get the public in on this every step of the way with total transparency,” said Hodges.
The council announced that no action would be taken on the matter that evening, but that they planned to hold advertised public forums in the near future to gauge public feedback before deciding whether or not to reinstate PRDs with certain criteria and restrictions to balance the opportunity for development with the overall protection of the Historic District.
However, when the council declined to allow public comment on the matter during Monday’s meeting, Elizabeth Bell and James Orr, two of the leading advocates against PRDs, shouted out and demanded to be given the floor for comment. The council denied their request but the couple persisted.
“If you want to talk about rebuilding trust, you will take public comment tonight,” said Orr.
“There was no mistaken vote in December,” insisted Bell. “The vote was taken and confirmed again that night. There are no more PRDs in the Historic District and that is law now,” said Bell. “This is unfair to the public to regurgitate this issue again and again when the public has already told you that they do not want this…hundreds of people are opposed to this. So, why do you keep bringing it back up? Who is really behind all of this?” question Bell.
Hodges fired back at Bell immediately. “Are you accusing me of something here?” asked a shocked Hodges. “If you think I have committed some kind of ethics violation there is a process to file a complaint for that…There is no ulterior motive here. I welcome anyone to file and open records request on me if they doubt that.”
“Then why are you pushing for something your constituents do not want?” asked Bell.
“My position remains the same as it as always been. I support PRDs in the Historic District as long as they go through a two step COA (Certificate of Appropriateness) process,” explained Hodges.
Bell handed City Attorney Joe Reitman and pre-written complaint against the council for not allowing public comment on the matter.
Councilman Joe DiLetto jumped in to defend Hodges against accusations from Orr, Bell and Celia Murray.
“She made a mistake, she is human,” interjected DiLetto. But Bell and Orr and other attendants in the audience shouted back that no mistake was made and that “the record shows” Hodges knowingly voted to eliminate PRDs. Hodges maintains she voted mistakenly, believing she was voting against elimination of PRDs but failed to speak up that evening when she realized she had made the mistake. She came forward publicly to apologize at a later meeting in December.
Mayor Perriman directed dissenters to attend the public forums, assuring them that everyone would be heard on the matter. However, the subject came up again at the end of the meeting.
Stratton Hicky addressed the council later during the official public comment portion of the meeting to address PRDs, despite the council’s request that it not be brought up again. Others tried to make public comment on PRDs as well. Mayor Perriman cut-off further comments, asking for a motion to adjourn the meeting.
The council pledged to announce public hearings on the issue of PRDs in coming weeks.