Madison B&B ordinance debate on horizon
By James Faucett
A Madison property owner’s request to amend the bed and breakfast ordinance met with opposition Monday as citizens crowded into the fire station conference room for the city council meeting.
Christy Friesen of 503 N. Main St. asked council members to change the bed and breakfast ordinance’s owner-occupation requirement. Explaining her intention to convert the historic Usher Thomason house on Main Street into a bed and breakfast, Friesen said, “I have three children and it is physically impossible for us to live there and run a business too, so I actually think it’s a little discriminatory, from family standpoints, the way the ordinance is written today.”
Friesen said she understood the reasoning behind the ordinance, “to prevent everybody from turning their home into a bed and breakfast,” but added, “I do live down the road. I am accountable. I will be there.” Friesen offered suggestions for alternatives to the stipulation, such as limiting the number of bed and breakfasts within the city limits.
Advising that changing the ordinance was an issue that would require more debate, Mayor Bruce Gilbert recalled participating in the original development of the ordinance some 20 years ago, remembering it as a long, arduous process.
“When you’re going into an R-1 and doing any kind of a commercial venture, it, of course, is something you need to look at closely,” Gilbert said.
In answering city council member Connie Booth as to the best way to proceed, city attorney Lee Abney said Friesen should meet with city staff, make a presentation of the specific things she’d like to see changed and propose a separate ordinance to be presented to the council.
“You could take that into account and look at the pros and the cons, and we could make sure that there’s no constitutional violation or any other on behalf of the city,” Abney said. “We can look at neighboring municipalities, question them, try and find someone that’s done this and see how it’s worked there.”
When asked by Booth about the zoning implications of Friesen’s request, City Planning Manager Monica Callahan said changing the ordinance would not be a rezoning.
“Ms. Friesen has turned in her application for zoning action for a conditional use, but we know for a fact that her intention is not to occupy the building,” Callahan said. “Therefore the first thing that’s going to happen at a zoning hearing is a conversation about the conditions. They won’t weigh whether the owner lives in it or not. That is a requirement that’s levied under the code, not under zoning.”
As council members determined to schedule a work session, Gilbert said it “will be made available to anyone that wants to come. And if we have this large attendance at the work session, we’ll move to a different location. We’ll move to somewhere where it’s more comfortable.”
Standing at the back of the room, Madison resident James Orr said, “I think if we did plan a work session, we will need a bigger room because I can tell you there is strong opposition from the people who live there to turning this, overnight, from a residential area to a commercial area.”
Though Friesen interjected that the change wouldn’t do that, Orr insisted it would.
“It is a residential neighborhood now, people live there, and this will not be a permanent residence,” Orr said. “It will be commercial.”
Gilbert said he believed he may have received another request for a change to the ordinance that council would need to consider as well.
“Maybe we’ll have more input and more to talk about what’s happened in the past and why we’ve done things this way or that way and what we can do to protect neighborhoods,” he said.
The council passed a motion to postpone the request to change the bed and breakfast ordinance until a they had a work session or until the Mar. 8 meeting if the work session has not taken place by then.