But why? That’s the question we keep asking regarding the town planning commission’s proposed historical zoning district overlay for downtown Madison. We love history, but this proposal seems to have more questions than answers and doesn’t even seem to have the support of the group proposing it.
The only reasoning for the overlay, and accompanying architectural review board (ARB), has come from town attorney Maynard Sipe. He said it’s needed to preserve and protect town structures from demolition. Planning commissioners didn’t offer any support for the measure during last week’s public hearing. Commissioner Brittany Frick offered the opposite, stating that the overlay first came about as a way for property owners to capture historic tax credits. However, she said in her experience, a homeowner has to spend 30 percent of the home’s value in renovation costs within the same calendar year in order to receive the credits. She said even with all of the projects she and her husband have done at their Main Street home, they still fell short of the 30 percent. She said she is not in support of the overlay. Her husband, Brian, noted the overlay essentially places property owners in a “defacto homeowner’s association.”
Plus, there’s the issue of notice. Property owner Melanie Hall Lacy said it would have been nice for the town to officially notify affected property owners by mail, since she and several others only found out about the overlay from this newspaper’s Facebook post. If the town or any governmental body is attempting to substantially change or limit citizens’ property rights it should encourage discussion. After all, government is there to serve the citizens.
And with all of that in mind, there’s still the issue of why?
Coincidentally, the town’s existing design measures for new construction only have been used twice in 40 years and we can’t think of a single building that has been demolished and replaced. We have to agree with resident Clarissa Berry who noted the ordinance is a solution in search of a problem. She also noted that waiting for a ruling by an ARB could delay property repairs, especially in the case of an emergency requiring immediate replacement such as a broken storm door or window. And then there’s the issue of cost. Who is going to pay for a metal roof replacement if a property owner can only afford shingles?
Perhaps town leaders could take the energy put into developing this unnecessary overlay ordinance and instead apply it to developing a food truck ordinance. Now that would be government serving its citizens.