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HPC disputes role in Foster Park project

Staff Written News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

A new housing development is underway in the heart of Madison’s historic district, which has faced criticisms and obstacles every step of the way since its inception more than three years ago. Now, there is a new objection to the project. 

Site work has begun for Foster Park, a 19-house subdivision set to be built behind the historic Foster-Thomason-Miller House on Main Street.  While design plans have been approved for the first two houses to be built and roadwork has already begun, one Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) member wants it halted. 

Chuck Dorr, an HPC member and lawyer who represented Historic District residents opposed to Foster Park, is arguing that the HPC must review not only house design plans, but “the layout, streets and other subdivision infrastructure” in Foster Park. City Manager David Nunn and Planner Ken Kocher disagree with Dorr’s assertion. 

After a lengthy discussion at the last HPC meeting, which included approving design plans for two houses and advice to redesign two others, the HPC agreed to issue a letter to the Madison Mayor and City Council to clarify the dispute raised by Dorr. Dorr recused himself from the design plan review of Foster Park due to his previous role as a lawyer against the project. 

However, Dorr inquired of Nunn and Kocher through e-mail about the matter. 

“Throughout our open email dialogue of the past several days, I have provided you with citations to the part of the code of ordinances that I think make it clear that the HPC review of subdivision plans is required and have asked what code provisions you and Mr. Nunn rely on to support a contrary view,” wrote Dorr. “To date, I have had no substantive response.”

Dorr cites Section 130.2 of the City’s code that mandates “single in-fill construction or a new subdivision” follow the historic “street oriented, grid-street pattern.” Dorr also wants the HPC to review lot dimensions, lot coverage, orientation, set-backs and site features. 

“One can observe from Foster Street that grading and clearing has begun in the Foster Park project…No conceptual review has been applied for or completed with respect to the project layout. HPC has jurisdiction over several aspect of siting. I reiterate my request that the City take action to stop any further construction activity except serving until the necessary Certificate of Occupancy Applications have been obtained,” wrote Dorr to City Manager David Nunn. 

But Nunn does not believe it is within the HPC’s purview to make those determinations. 

“Subdivision plans are not currently not have they ever been subject to the HPC review,” said Nunn. “In my read, the subdivision layout design and so forth has never been reviewed by the HPC. It’s been site specific in the past, and there’s only been three in the last 25 years and none of them were formally reviewed by the HPC. That’s always been an administrative function of city staff. Maybe clarity is what’s needed.”

Nunn noted that the city has no intention of halting site work for Foster Park. 

“The developers have a valid permit to construction for that subdivision property, it was obtained through the proper channels and is in compliance,” said Nunn. 

“I am frustrated,” said Dorr. “It seems clear to me that the Historic Preservation Ordinance does apply to subdivision plans.” 

Dorr wanted the city manager and city attorney to attend the last HPC meeting on Tuesday, August 20 to address the matter, but neither attended. The HPC agreed to draft a letter to the city council to intervene. 

The City Council will weigh in on this dispute at a future meeting. 

“It will be addressed eventually,” said Nunn.  “It’s something the HPC wants to be clarified.” 

The HPC also denied a proposed entryway sign and column for Foster Park at the last HPC meeting. 

“We proposed a monument, a simple column for the entry to Foster Park,” said Brad Good, developer of Foster Park. “That was denied, just because there is not a historic precedent for a neighborhood entryway like that.”

According to Good, site work is anticipated to be complete this Fall and from there, he expects a two-year build out for all 19 houses in Foster Park. 

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