By Tia Lynn Ivey
Foster Park, a controversial proposed housing development behind the historic Foster-Thomason-Miller House in Madison, is on hold again after more than two years of debate and legal challenges. Despite a legal victory granted by the Morgan County Superior Court at the end of November, a group of Historic District residents have filed an appeal application to the Georgia Court of Appeal to hear their case opposing the development, which alleges that the City of Madison wrongly approved a zoning change in order to allow for the 19-house development to be built.
Judge Amanda Petty ruled in favor of the City of Madison in December, but now the Georgia Court of Appeals will decide whether or not to hear the case. The Historic District residents who filed the suit include Theresa and Dean Bishop, Elizabeth Bell, James Orr, Celia and Walter Murray, Robert and Dena Lanier, and Penelope Foote. The group is now being represented by Athens-based attorneys, David Ellison and Michael Broun. Ellison and Broun did not return requests for comment by press time on Monday, Dec. 31.
City Attorney Jim Carter is hoping the Georgia Court of Appeals will turn down the case so the Foster Park project can move forward.
“The city’s reaction is that the lower court did its job very well and the appeal should be denied,” said Carter, who is currently preparing a reply to the appeal suit. According to Carter, should the Georgia Court of Appeals decline to hear the case, the Foster Park project should be able to move forward without further legal challenges.
“Unless they are prepared to take this thing to the Supreme Court to reverse this ruling, it should move forward. The Supreme Court taking up this case would be unlikely,” said Carter.
The lawsuit launched by the Historic District resident alleges that the City of Madison did not follow proper public hearing procedures before narrowly voting to rezone the 10.34-acre property to a Residential 4 zoning designation, which reduced the lot sizes required for each house. The lawsuit also alleges that City Councilman Joe DiLetto exhibited bias toward Historic District residents throughout the approval process. Judge Petty ruled in favor of the City of Madison on all counts, but the historic district residents are hoping the Georgia Court of Appeals will overturn that ruling.
In her ruling, Judge Petty found that “the Petitioners were given reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard on the application in question,” and that “the court further finds that the mayor and councilmembers voted freely without bias, and without prejudging the issues as a result of any ex-parte communication from the parties…The court further finds that there is evidence in the record to support the decision of the Mayor and Council amending the zoning map of the City of Madison to change the zoning of the subject property from R-2 to R-4 with conditions,” wrote Petty.
Until the Georgia Court of Appeals renders its decision on the case, the Foster Park housing development is stalled again.