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By Tian Lynn Ivey

managing editor

Over 50 members of the public attended a special work session of the Madison Mayor and City Council last Thursday, at which city staff presented a “learning workshop” on flexible zoning tools. The introductory presentation focused on various zoning tools and projects throughout Madison’s history, not only Planned Residential Developments (PRDs), which has garnered the most attention and controversy in recent years.

City Planning Director Monica Callahan and City Planner Mollie Bogle walked the council through Madison’s history of utilizing flexible zoning techniques to develop the city in accordance to the city’s long-term planning goals.

Callahan noted that flexible zoning tools enhance the city’s capability for both “creativity” and “efficiency,” look at each zoning request on a case by case basis.

Madison Mayor Fred Perriman encouraged the council and audience to listen with an open-mind, informing everyone that no questions or public input would be heard that evening.

“We are having this training class tonight for the benefit of our council, and hopefully, for the benefit of the public as well,” began Perriman. “Although we will have no questions asked tonight, eventually, we will have an open forum for the community to take part in. But until that time, this will just be a work session where we can all learn more about this.”

Callahan noted some of the benefits to flexible zoning tools include “creativity” and “efficiency” of services.

The worksession is the beginning stages of the council reopening the council reconsidering allowing Planned Residential Developments (PRDs) in the historic district, which they voted to eliminate last year.

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.

Members of The Historic Madison Coalition attended the workshop. Although public comment was not taken at the meeting, members passed out pamphlets which presented the organizations perspective on development, economic growth, tourism, and historical preservation.

The Historic Madison Coalition characterizes PRDs in particular as “good for developers” but “bad for Madison.”

“PRDs are a modern urban planning toll created to mitigate urban sprawl. They were not designed for slow growth historically sensitive areas like historic districts, particularly in small rural towns like Madison,” read a statement from the Historic Madison Coalition counter claims made by Developers Wayne Lamar and Brad Good.

According to the city, Thursday’s workshop is the first of many to come, with future meetings designed to examine the pros and cons of flexible zoning tools, especially PRDs, from both a development perspective and historical preservation perspective.

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