By Nick Nunn

Staff Writer

The Morgan County Planning Commission held a work session last Friday, July 19 to discuss several issues, including a petition for a text amendment of a City of Madison zoning ordinance, which would allow tennis court illumination on residential properties or 2.5 acres or more.

The text amendment, which was originally proposed to the Planning Commission almost a month ago, was filed by attorney Ben Whidham on behalf of Von and Christy Friesen, who built tennis courts with lighting structures despite existing ordinances prohibiting such lighting.

Members of the planning commission voted unanimously to table the amendment at their last held meeting, citing concerns with the draft of the amendment, which, at the time, would allow the erection of lighting structures, provided that they remain 50 feet away from property lines on plots larger than 2.5 acres.

At the July 19 meeting, the Planning Commission discussed possible changes to the amendment, which would only allow lighting on plots containing 3 acres of land or more, as long as the light poles had a height maximum of 20 feet, while remaining 50 feet from property lines.

Monica Callahan, city planning director, recommended to the commission that they add a conditional use policy on the ordinance, which would give the commission the ability to accept or deny individual proposals for constructing such structures.

“There will always be a tendency for any third-party applicant to write an ordinance which suits them,” said Callahan. “I am looking at the impact to every other residential property.” The members of the planning commission spoke in favor of adding a conditional use restriction to the amendment.

The commission also heard from Chuck Jarrell, planning director, about a proposed rezoning of 1.88 acres at the intersection of the Highway 441 bypass and Bethany Road in Madison.

Ryan Taylor, owner of the 1.88 acres in question, would like the land rezoned from Residential Low Density (R1) to General Commercial (C2) in order to open a landscaping supply business.

Taylor’s ability to open the landscaping supply business at the location would also hinge on the commission’s approving a conditional use permit for the business.

Although the staff report that Jarrell presented to the commission was mostly in favor of approving Taylor’s plans, he did note that the originally proposed plans involved storing bulk items near the roadway and having a gravel driveway and parking lot, which are not allowed by county ordinances.

Before the work session, Jarrell had recommended to Taylor’s building engineer that they move the bulk storage areas to the back of the building, but updated plans were not available to the commission by the time of the work session.

The commission members’ largest concern with the project involved its two entrances: one at an existing curb cut on the 441 bypass, and the other on Bethany Road.

Since the beginning of the turning lane on the right of the 441 bypass leading to Bethany Road begins right at the curb cut on the 441 bypass that Taylor intends to use as an entrance, the commission expressed concern with possible traffic hazards created by the proposed entrance.

Jarrell noted that, since the curb cut exists and is currently under the purview of the Department of Transportation (DOT), it will be grandfathered in by the DOT. Jarrell also said that he believes that Taylor is also currently discussing the issue of the curb cut and its possible use as an entrance with the DOT.

Additionally, the commission heard a petition from Josh A. Wheat on behalf of Swords United Methodist Church, who is requesting a conditional use permit to allow a fellowship hall at the church’s location, 1401 Swords Road, Buckhead.

The proposed building, which measures 24 feet by 36 feet and would sit 20 feet behind the building and slightly to the right, will be leased by Swords United Methodist Church for two years, while they attempt to raise funds in order to build a permanent structure.

Although the building does not meet all of the ordinance requirements for historic standalone churches, Jarrell remarked that the commission “granted a similar building for a historic church at Mt. Perry Missionary Baptist Church back in 2009.”

Finally, the Planning Commission heard a request for a setback variance at 1400 North Fifth Street. The owner of the property intends to use the property to house a number of work vehicles. With the existing setback of 75 feet at Heavy Commercial Zoning Districts (C5), the owner would be required to house the vehicles in front of the existing building, which is not allowed by district ordinances. The applicant is seeking a front setback of 30 feet instead.

“His hardship would be basically that he would have to spend an exorbitant amount of money screening in the front, and do it in a manner non-conforming with the district, which means all bulk storage and equipment storage would be in the front yard,” explained Callahan. “That is non-conforming with the district.”

The Planning Commission is expected to vote on these matters at their next meeting on Thursday, July 25.