HPC mum on North Ave. project

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

Everett Royal appeared before Madison’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) to ask for feedback on a proposed project for his property on North Avenue, in the Historic District, upon which he is seeking to create three tracts of land and build two new houses. Royal is seeking a variance application the Madison’s Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) to request allowing the new houses to be built along the “historic” house line that currently exists on North Avenue. Opponents of the project also attended the May 9 meeting. The project has been held up by detractors as an example of why more oversight from the HPC should be required for rezoning applications inside the Historic District.

The Historic Madison Coalition (HMC), a citizen group aiming to preserve and protect the historic district of Madison, has criticized Royal’s property on North Avenue being rezoned from R-1 to R-2 without HPC input.  Some HMC members spoke at the meeting to weigh in on the North Avenue project, as well as to urge the HPC to weigh in on all rezoning applications inside the Historic District.

But the HPC opted to remain neutral in both matters. The HPC declined to give Royal a formal ruling for the Madison Planning and Zoning Commission, but individual HPC members expressed personal support for Royal’s proposal. The HPC also backed away from HMC Member Stratton Hicky’s request that the HPC seek a role in the rezoning process inside the Historic District.

“If there were an ordinance written that were to say that zoning within the Historic District requires some comment from the HPC, I as a commissioner would be happy to provide that comment, but the ordinance does not currently say that and I don’t know that the HPC as a body should say the ordinance should say that until the city council asks us for our opinion on it,” said Brad Rice, HPC member.

Ken Kocher, preservation planner for the city, argued that the Planning and Zoning Commission already takes historic preservation into account when review rezoning and variance applications and advised the HPC that any feedback on Royal’s variance application is at their discretion.

“Given the clamor for the preservation commission to dabble in zoning lately, “ began Kocher, who was interrupted with an objection from HMC member Elizabeth Bell. “I think that Mr. Royal was just running this by you and whether you decide to have any comment to the planning commission or not is your prerogative.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Bell went on the record to criticize Kocher’s remarks.

“I would like to put on record my objection to staff’s mischaracterization of recent citizen correspondence and conversations concerning the jurisdiction of this commission as it exists under current ordinances and guidelines,” said Bell. “It’s an inappropriate attempt to discourage public discourse and to disparage citizens who are attempting to be vigilant in protecting the integrity of the historic district.”

Kocher said Bell has misinterpreted his comments.

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