Although the matter was expected to be settled once and for all at last Monday’s Mayor and City Council meeting, the saga of the controversial Foster Park Development will live on.
In a last-minute turn of events, Developer Brad Good, who filed a rezoning request that would allow him to build 24 houses behind the historic Thomason-Miller house on Main Street in Madison, asked the council to postpone the highly-anticipated vote after reaching a compromise with the Historic District residents opposed to the project.
According to Good’s attorney, Kathy Zickert, in an effort to appease local critics concerned about too much density in Madison’s Historic District, Good has agreed to amend his application in order to keep the current Residential 2 (R2) zoning and limit the number of houses built to 19 instead of 24.
“We are trying very hard to work through this, which I think you all would appreciate very much,” said Zickert at Monday’s council meeting. “We are trying very much to resolve this matter with the folks who have had issues with it…and we would like to keep it as R2 if possible with no more than 19 lots in the back and two lots on Main Street.” Zickert pledged that Good would drop the Residential 4 (R4) rezoning request that would have allowed him to build more houses on smaller lot sizes.
Elizabeth Bell stood beside Zickert before the council, speaking on behalf of those who opposed the Foster Park development as previously proposed.
“We have talked to several of the abutting neighbors who are more than willing to try to work this out at an R2 zoning level. We are more than happy to try to do that,” said Bell. “I would like to say a personal thanks to everybody in this room and to everybody who has been here in support of the neighborhood and the Historic District, trying to maintain—trying to hold the line on density,” said Bell. “They have worked incredibly hard, they have walked and walked and walked in rain and it’s been tough. The last year-and-a-half has been extremely difficult for our neighborhood and for this city. We appreciate the opportunity to keep this property zoned as it should be,” said Bell.
“It seems like both sides are ready to get together and work this out, said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman.
“Obviously, there was some civility that I didn’t perceive, but God Bless y’all,” said Councilman Joe DiLetto.
While this compromise came as a welcomed surprise to Madison Mayor and City Council, according to City Planner Monica Callahan, the approval process for the new plan may not be so easy. Callahan warned that variance requests are not guaranteed for approval and are currently under scrutiny in general due to concerns over how variance requests could negatively affect the entirety of the city’s zoning ordinance.
“Specifically, there would have to be a zoning application for a variance, for every variance requested, that will include a public hearing for every variance requested and everybody should be very aware that the variance process is not assured,” said Callahan. “If the R4 application is withdrawn, very similar to the previous application that was withdrawn, there is no assurance that the ordinance will remain the same when they’re ready to make new application, like it changed before. There is also no assurance that any of those variances would necessarily be granted and I assume we are going to get legal advice on that, because we have had concerns about the variance process being used for the division of estates and division for developers. So, we would want a very firm legal opinion that this wouldn’t open the whole zoning ordinance up, every zone, not just R2, to someone wanting a variance anytime they want to divide land for whatever purpose.”
City Attorney Joe Reitman concurred with Callahan’s assessment.
“I agree. It would have to be very carefully structured and we would have to look at any potential adverse ramifications,” said Reitman.
Callahan also pointed out that not only would a revised application have to return to Madison’s Planning and Zoning Commission before returning to the City Council for final approval, but the application would be subject to review from the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) as well.
“The HPC, under our current ordinance, has the right to weigh in on each and every variance. And [the HPC] is required to weigh in on map amendments, so there will be a public hearing before HPC on every variance.”
Zickert agreed to the next round of the approval process to begin in January 2018. Public meetings will be decided at a later date and properly advertised before held.
“In the mean time, we will follow the appropriate steps to make sure that we have the variances secured appropriately and applied for appropriately,” said Zickert.
The Madison Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to table Good’s application in order for the revisions to be made. Councilwoman Chris Hodges recused herself from the vote.
Good was relieved to finally make some headway with Historic District residents and is hopeful that the Foster Park development can move forward now.
“It’s been a long day,” said Good. “We are trying to work with everyone to achieve an outcome that is good for everyone, but it’s been difficult.”