By Nick Nunn

Staff Writer

During the regular meeting of the Madison City Council that took place on Monday, Nov. 11, the council voted to approve a modified version of the proposed zoning text amendments related to non-residential tour uses but sent the proposed city code amendments concerning tour operators and small group tours back to staff for another draft, which will reflect the council’s discussion and concerns expressed during the meeting.

The council passed the first three sections of the zoning text amendments without modification. The first three sections offered definitions for “historic sites and museums” and “tour service offices,” and amended the residential land use and commercial land use tables. The fourth section of the zoning text amendments outlined the conditions for approving a conditional use permit for a historic site and museum use in a residential district.

The lengthy discussion by the council members and the public concerning the fourth section of the proposed amendment focused on the minimum lot acreage and separation requirements included in the proposal. As presented, the amendment stated that historic sites and museums in residential zones would have to have a minimum of a 3-acre lot, while historic sites and museums in any non-residential zone would have to have a minimum of a 0.25-acre lot, and historic sites and museums would have to be at least 1,500 feet from any other historic site and museum.

After considerable debate, the council voted to strike the minimum acreage requirements and reduced the separation requirement to only 1,000 feet. Before approving the final section of the amendments, the council also struck the requirement in the proposal, which stated that no historic site and museum in a residential zone can be located on property that had previously been used as a residence. To begin the discussion of the city code amendments related to tour operators and small group tours, Council Member Michael Naples stated that the goal of the amendments will be to balance the council’s duty to the tour operators and to the residents and business owners of Madison. Stratton Hicky began the public comments, saying that the council “needs to look at what [they] are trying to solve” and not to presuppose problems that have not occurred already. David Land pointed out several issues with the draft of the amendments, including organizational problems and omissions.

The draft does not address non-fee tours or tours for groups larger than 60 people and smaller than 1,000 people. Sheri Clark, owner of The Madison Gift Mart, objected to tour operators being able to serve catered meal service during tours. “If you have food in the tour, it is going to hurt us,” said Clark. “Downtown is hurting badly.” Sue Ellen Hampton asked the council to get rid of a requirement, which stated that does not allow small group tours to take place 14 days before or after larger tour dates. Kathy Whiteside agreed with Hampton’s objection and also asked the council to extend the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. time constraint included in the draft. Whiteside insisted that, any time she held tours in her home in the past, she directed the tourists toward Madison’s commercial district and even offered tourists a guide to Madison’s businesses and restaurants.

“I advertised everyone,” said Whiteside. Theresa Bishop, owner of BB&G, told the council that “business should be in the retail district” and offering meal service during small tours might prevents tourists from coming into downtown Madison. “Show them everything Madison has to offer, not just one home,” said Bishop. Council Member Joseph DiLetto questioned the amount of hours that have been spent on the nine-month process leading up to the latest proposed draft of the code amendments. “I don’t know what was wrong with what we used to do,” said DiLetto. The council discussed the restrictions involving how many small group tour permits will be allowed, how many tours each permit will allow per year, the 14-day separation requirement for small group tours, the daily time restrictions on small group tours, and whether or not catered meal service should be allowed for small group tours. Ultimately, Madison Planning Director Monica Callahan was charged with creating another draft of the proposed amendments based on the council’s discussion.

Callahan stated that the next draft would include a definition for mid-sized tours, strike the 14-day separation requirement for small group tours and restrictions on serving catered meal service during tours, increase the maximum number of persons per small group tour to 120, and extend allowed tour times from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. For the next draft, the number of small group permits issued per year will be listed at six, with a maximum of 10 small group tours per permit. The council then voted to postpone the final vote on the issue until a later meeting. During the meeting, the council also approved a variance request for an accessory structure on 668 North Main Street, Madison, and voted to declare 473 Burney Street an “area basis” slum or blight in order to complete the application for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).