Council disputes ongoing house tours in residential areas
By Patrick Yost
Enforcement of city ordinances banning commercial enterprises in residential areas has some Madison City Council members trying to find compromise and at least one member staunchly against relaxing the rules.
At Monday's Madison City Council Work Session, Council Member Michael Naples questioned why the city had not forcefully stopped at least one owner of a historic home from providing private tours.
Naples said he would "vehemently oppose" any language that would allow private tours of privately owned houses in residential areas. Naples suggested that the "social status" of house owners had prevented the city from clamping down on the tours.
The crux of the issue, currently, appears to be sporadic house tours at Madison's Thurleston house on Dixie Avenue. While the council did not discuss Thurleston specifically, it did reference owner Kathy Whiteside.
City Manager David Nunn said Tuesday that Whiteside had purchased a "tour operator" license from the city, a license designed to accommodate private tour operators who arrange and lead tourism groups on individual tours. At Monday night's meeting Nunn told the council that the city had sold Whiteside the license. "She bought a license, we sold her a license," Nunn said.
Madison Mayor Bruce Gilbert said he hoped the council could find common ground that would accommodate individual tours but not disrupt residential communities.
"We've had tour buses for a long time," Gilbert said. Gilbert urged the council to consider creating an ordinance that would find middle ground.
Council Member Fred Perriman said that the council should consider the importance of tourism to Madison before the council condemns the practice.
"The question is what is the frequency when it happens," Nunn said, "and what problems did it cause when it did happen. The truth is it was infrequent and it caused no problems."
Naples was adamant that the practice should cease. "People in residential districts made it clear they don't want commercial activity."
"There are citizens in this town who have legitimate businesses and it hurts their business," he said. "We have a situation here where we know our ordinance is being violated."
In other city council news the council:
• Agreed to create either an ordinance or street signs forbidding trucks from "Jake Braking" within the city limits of Madison. The practice, according to Gilbert, is exhaust braking by transfer trucks that creates both loud noise and vibration. South Main Street resident Brian Lehman agreed that the practice should be thwarted by law enforcement if necessary. "I maintain that nobody living in a populated area in a civilized community should have to put up with this. It's unconscionable."
• Agreed to establish a zoning workshop at the urging of council member Naples. Naples is making the request in part because last month the council agreed to a zoning variance in the Valley Farms subdivision off East Washington Street that allowed one property owner to sell a small portion of property to a neighbor that would then leave the seller's lot smaller than the 0.25 acre minimum. Naples had made a motion to deny the variance request but the motion died for lack of a second. A motion by council member Perriman to grant the variance passed 4–1. Naples said by approving the variance the council failed to meet the standards of city zoning. "If we are not following our own standards we are putting our zoning ordinance… in jeopardy," he said. "You have to follow your own standards."
Printed in the November 29, 2012 edition.