Coalition wants seat at city table

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

The Madison Mayor and City Council clashed with local citizens opposed to Planned Residential Developments (PRDs) in the Historic District last Friday over coming educational workshops regarding PRDs.

The City Council commissioned city staff to research the issue by consulting Georgia zoning experts and historic preservation experts to educate the council and the public on PRDs. The council pledged to seek further education on the matter before taking steps to lift the current ban on PRDs in the Historic District.

Celia Murray, one of the members of the Historic Madison Coalition, challenged the city council’s decision to task city staff with gathering the information instead of allowing public input on how the research is conducted and which experts are consulted.

“I thought we would be included in this planning process,” said Celia Murray, who told the council she contacted the City Manager David Nunn to offer input, but received no response. Murray was under the impression that the council agreed some of the opponents to PRDs have a say in the planning of any educational workshops on PRDs.

However, the Mayor and City Council stood by their decision to leave the process in the hands of city staff alone.

“The public needs to have trust in our city staff. They are professional people and they would not do anything underhanded or detrimental to our community,” said Mayor Fred Perriman. “We made an appointment to our city manager to advise staff to do this. It is our feeling that our staff needed to do this without any outside involvement…Our staff will have this work session for our council members and I am sure you all will be invited to that as well.”

“The public should be involved in this,” countered Murray. “The educational components are for the public in addition to the city and that’s why we asked to be involved in the first place.”

“You can ask questions all together and we can discuss this at the meeting, but to dictate how the meeting goes, I don’t think that’s how it works,” said Councilwoman Carrie Peters-Reid.

Councilman Rick Blanton agreed.

“You know, I don’t remember saying you all can plan the meeting,” said Blanton. “But I don’t think we are actually that far a part on this. I agree with what the mayor has said here today. And it may take one, three, or five meetings on all this. You are all welcome to come to those meetings and bring your expertise and have a sharing of information and an opportunity to discuss what city staff presents.”

Director of City Planning, Monica Callahan, clarified how city will proceed with this task.

“We will be doing this in a fact-based fashion, instead of anecdotal,” said Callahan. “We are collecting all information over the last 25 years of our history’s development pattern—how it developed and every time a flexible zoning pattern has been used.”

Callahan believes this information will be vital to the council moving forward.

“I think you adopted an ordinance without taking into consideration how it would impact the actual implementation,” said Callahan of the council’s controversial vote to eliminate PRDs from the Historic District. “This information was not provided then. And it should have been…I don’t take instruction unilaterally from any member of the public whether they are pro development or not.”

The opposition to PRDs in the Historic District grew earlier this year because of one controversial project proposed on Foster Street. Developer Brad 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 was 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 council’s vote in December took away the possibility of the Foster Street development from ever coming to fruition, unless PRDs are reinstated in the Historic District.

The council will discuss those possibilities at future meetings and if they decide to proceed with another vote to change the PRD policy in the Historic District, they will advertise public hearings prior to that vote.

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