HMC calls for a halt on new development

Staff Written News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

No more housing developments in Madison–at least that’s what the Historic Madison Coalition is calling for–to halt all new developments in the city. 

“Maybe we need to call for a moratorium on development,” said Celia Murray, president of the HMC at a packed meeting last Sunday. “It may seem extreme, but that may be the only way to ensure the Historic District maintains it’s small town character. I submit to you that we have insufficient infrastructure to handle new growth at this time. I don’t want to sacrifice Madison’s Historic District as the priceless jewel we know it to be.”

The HMC decried Madison’s current traffic and truck problems, worrying that new housing developments will significantly worsen those issues in coming years. 

At an informational meeting last Sunday, about 50 people gathered to hear the HMC leaders present their case. Glenn Eskew and Celia Murray led the discussion, with Eskew giving a detailed history of the formation and evolution of Madison and Morgan County, while Murray explained present day problems and future solutions. 

The meeting centered around the potential sale of Pritchard Farms, a 1,763-acre tract of land currently on the market, and how new developments on the land could negatively impact Madison, especially the historic district. The southeast corner of the farm lies within the historic district. 

“Come to a neighborhood meeting to learn about future housing developments and potential traffic issues in Madison’s National Register Historic District, such as Pritchard Farm, the 1,763 acres of prime real estate north of the railroad in the city limits that is currently being marketed to builders for a new housing with ingress and egress planned for Kolb Street Crossing and Oil Mill Road,” said the flyer for Sunday’s meeting. “And hear the latest about the western bypass and other issues.”

The Pritchard Farm is being advertised for sale on multiple website and is being represented by Randolph Williamson, a realty company in Atlanta. According to James Clark, a realtor for the firm, the farm has been on the market for several months, but none of the acres have sold. 

“The farm is for sale. There are no developers involved,” said Clark. 

The sale price is listed as $7,000 per acre. The permitted zoning is classified as “Agricultural, Residential and Industrial. 

Eskew warned that Morgan County is now considered part of Metro-Atlanta and could fall prey to the kind of growth and development seen in surrounding areas. 

“You are now part of the Metro-Atlanta culture and the Metro-Atlanta vision, whether you want it or not,” said Eskew. “In Covington every square inch is being chopped up and built upon. Is that what we want to happen here?”

The main concern of the HMC is traffic congestion and tractor-trailer trucks driving through downtown. 

“My point to you today, when we look to all of these parts and we get a sum and you don’t like that sum, you change the parts to get a different outcome,” said Eskew, warning against increasing housing in Madison. “We need to ask ourselves housing for whom? Why do we have to provide more housing? Is there someone in Atlanta telling us here in Morgan County what we have to do? Do we have to absorb the excess population of Metro-Atlanta? Do we have a city government we can encourage to think differently? Is uncontrolled growth that great of a solution if we want to protect and enhance the quality of life in our community? Ask yourselves these questions and how the parts are coming together.”

Murray warned that future traffic predictions are grim for Madison. 

“What is the future predicted to hold for us in regards to traffic? We here to see what we can do to alleviate those future predictions to make sure they do not come true,” said Murray. 

Murray identified the three main negative issues with traffic in Madison: speeding, truck traffic, and volume. 

“The sheer volume of traffic– it was very bad 12 years ago and it is only going to get worse,” said Murray, who argued increased traffic rate would damage “the unique character of the Historic District.”

Murray cited Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) statistics to buttress her argument. 

“One concerning factor is the GDOT predicts that in 10 years from now between Highway 83 and 441, that section of I-20 will carry 40,000 cars [per day], a tremendous volume of traffic. For South Main Street, which now operates at 16,000 vehicles per day, and was 11,000 per day in 2009, the future prediction is over 27,000 vehicles per day…Can we increase the volume on South Main Street by 50 percent? No, we just cannot do it.”

In addition to calling for a moratorium on all new developments, Murray also advocated for citizens to lobby city government to enforce speeding laws. 

“City officials have said they don’t want Madsion to get the reputation as a speed trap,” said Murray. “Chief Bill Ashburn said it’s very difficult to make a stop on Main Street and actually hold up traffic even more.” 

Murray noted it is standard procedure for police to only ticket speeders who drive at least 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, but argued Main Street should be an exception. 

“The speeding problem we can certainly do something about.” said Murray.  “There’s an exception to not ticketing speeders, if you are in a designated historic district speeders can be ticketed or if you are in a residential area, speeders can be ticketed. Main Street is in both. As citizens we can advocate and lobby the city government to enforce existing speed limits…Being a speed trap may not be an entirely bad thing if drivers might choose to go around and not go through the city at all.”

Murray believes halting development is the most sensible way to stop overpopulation and increased traffic congestion. 

“Tourism is the economic engine of the city. The Historic District is our greatest asset. The fact that we have this tremendous asset means we are limited in what we can do to address the traffic problem. We can’t widen roads and things like that for that would be to kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” said Murray. “Some of the problem is from a lack of political will and prioritizing growth over preservation. The more we grow the more traffic increases.”

Madison City Councilmen Joe DiLetto and Erice Joyce attended the meeting and offered feedback after the HMC’s presentation. 

Murray also criticized the City of Madison’s latest Comprehensive Plan, which is devised every 10 years with a 20 year outlook, for not addressing traffic concerns thoroughly enough. 

“Traffic has been a problem for a long time, but what do we get? Only four sentences in the comp plan,” said Murray. “We have to consider the possibility that the lack of a plan is intentional..so, the city is free to accommodate all manner of development and that’s pretty much what’s happening the last few years.Maybe it’s not intentional. Maybe it’s too thorny an issue, politically or practically…but we must utilize political pressure to urge the city to address city speeding and redirecting truck traffic to the bypass with signage.”

Madison City Councilmen Joe DiLetto and Erice Joyce attended the meeting and offered feedback after the HMC’s presentation. 

“I agree with you 110 percent on traffic, it’s an issue, said DiLetto, who urged the city, county and community to rally together to urge GDOT to move up the extension of the 441 bypass. DiLetto also agreed that the city should enforce current speed limits. 

Joyce expressed a middle of the road position believing the city could foster some development while protecting the historic district. Joyce also urged the crowd to consider running for city council or other leadership positions to exercise some influence on these issues.  

“I was a little disappointed that we did not have a second candidate run for Joe’s seat on the city council,” said Joyce, who noted DiLetto’s seat will be filled by Ed Latham, current chairman of the Downtown Development Authority.. “Those of you who feel very strongly about these issues, you missed an opportunity to get a seat at the table.”

Eskew closed the meeting, warning against any more development in the city. 

“More houses will not solve our problems. It will bring more traffic, overcrowded schools, and more work for our police and fire departments.”

Murray urged citizens to join the HMC, a non-profit organization founded to protect Madison’s Historic District. The HMC was founded as a non-profit organization in 2017 after citizens challenged controversial zoning decisions made by the Madison Mayor and City Council, including rezoning the property behind the Historic Foster Thomason Miller House to accommodate a 19-house subdivision. 

The group released a joint statement announcing its launch in 2017.

“The Historic Madison Coalition [is] to help citizens become better informed about historic preservation issues in the City and its Historic District. The Historic Madison Coalition was formed in response to growing concern for the historic integrity of the City arising from two recent debates concerning zoning in the Historic District,” the statement noted. “The first was the proposed Planned Residential Development (PRD) on the Foster-Thomason-Miller property on South Main Street. The second was the rezoning of property on North Avenue from R-1 to R-2 with no input from the Historic Preservation Commission.”

In the past, the HMC has argued that certain kinds of development will harm the Historic District, eroding its character, tourism-appeal, and create population density, traffic, and noise problems. To find out more information, e-mail historicmadisoncoalition@gmail.com.

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