By Tia Lynn Ivey
Foster Park, a proposed 19-house subdivision planned for Madison’s Historic District, has been in limbo for more than two years as a series heated public proceedings and legal challenges unfolded to halt the project. However, opponents of the project, a group of Historic District residents who object to the housing development and the City of Madison’s rezoning allowance to accommodate it, may be out of options. The lawsuit originally launched by the Historic District resident alleged 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 alleged that City Councilman Joe DiLetto exhibited bias toward Historic District residents throughout the approval process. Morgan County Superior Judge Amanda Petty ruled in favor of the City of Madison on all counts in December 2018, but the historic district residents had hoped the Georgia Court of Appeals would overturn that ruling. However, their hopes were dashed.
On Jan. 18, the Georgia Court of Appeal issued a statement declining to hear the appeal suit, filed by Theresa and Dean Bishop, Elizabeth Bell, James Orr, Celia and Walter Murray, Robert and Dena Lanier, and Penelope Foote. The group is represented by Athens-based attorneys, David Ellison and Michael Broun.
According to Broun, the court’s refusal to hear the case could be the end of the line for his clients’ legal options to impede the development of Foster Park.
“This was a pretty big blow for us,” conceded Broun, who explained his clients remaining legal options are limited with a slim margin for success. “There is not a mechanism for us to move it to the Georgia Supreme Court. We are considering filing a motion for reconsideration with the Georgia Court of appeal, but that seems like it might be a dead-end as well,” said Broun.
Broun believes his clients have not been served justly under the law.
“We are certainly disappointed in the outcome,” said Broun. “We believe there as been some development in Georgia case law in the last few years in how cities should view zoning matters and how zoning matters should be treated,” said Broun.
However, attorneys for the City of Madison and Developer Brad Good, are pleased with the court’s ruling, hoping the project can move forward without any further obstacles.
“I am very pleased with the outcome,” said Jim Carter, City Attorney who defended the City of Madison’s controversial and narrow vote to rezone 10.36 acres behind the historic Foster-Thomason-Miller House in order to accommodate the Foster Park housing development project. Carter believes the legal challenges should have ended after Morgan County Superior Court Judge Amanda Petty ruled in the city’s favor.
“As I have held all along, I didn’t think there was valid basis for this appeal to the Georgia Superior Court. Judge Petty did an excellent job and I am pleased that court of appeals agreed with her.”
Attorney Kathy Zickert, who represents developer Brad Good, the architect behind Foster Park, believes the ruling is long overdue.
“As long as this is truly the end of it, we will finally be able to move forward with the project,” said Zickert. “There was no doubt in my mind that this would be the outcome. These lawsuits against us were always an inappropriate application of the law. It took a long time to get here, but I am glad we are finally here.”
According to Carter and Zickert, if all legal challenges will cease, the property will remain rezoned as an Residential 4 Zone, which allows for smaller lot sizes than the previous Residential 2 designation. Good will proceed with applying for land disturbance permits and building permits, hoping to start development on the property behind Main Street and Foster Street in Madison in a few months.
According to Carter and Zickert all design plans will have to be reviewed an approved by Madison’s Historic Preservation Commission before construction can begin.
“The property is rezoned, but the developers will still be subject to several public proceedings to continue the project, including review by the Historic Preservation Commission,” explained Carter. “There is still a lot of oversight on this project.”
“The Historic Preservation Commission will have to approve all facades and other architectural elements to make sure the houses are in keeping with the rest of the historic district from a design standpoint,” said Zickert.
Carter hopes Foster Park will eventually be a development of which the entire city can be proud.
“It is my hope that people can go ahead from here, that we can all work together for the betterment of the city and put this incident behind us,” said Carter.