Disgruntled Madison citizen voices grievances at city council meeting
George Warren gives the Madison City Council his opinion.
During Monday city council meeting, Madison resident and former state senator from DeKalb County, George Warren, took to the floor to express his dissatisfaction with recent decisions made by the local government regarding his efforts to redraw one of his property lines. In particular, he critiqued city planning director Monica Callahan, and what he sees as her undue influence in zoning ordinance decisions.
Warren seeks to redraw a boundary line on his property in such a way that would reduce the size of one of his five lots to below the three-quarters of an acre required by historic district zoning ordinances. Warren filed his appeal to the city council on March 21 of this year. His main concern is the time involved in seeking a variance, which he is eligible to apply for under current city statutes. Alternately, according to city attorney Joe Reitman, he could seek a text amendment, but both would take about four to six weeks to resolve. Warren urged the council to take bolder action and override the footnote to 2007 legislation that is causing the holdup, and so make immediate action on the property possible, saying, “I want someone [on the council] to have the nerve to make a motion tonight.” He pointed out that the effect on surrounding property would be negligible, impacting the adjacent property of only one neighbor.
The retired politician had many strong words for the council after initially offering an apology to council members Carrie Peters-Reid and Chris Hodges for perhaps inadvertently running afoul of ethics requirements as he attempted to meet with them personally to discuss these rules. He stressed his own record of ethical behavior while in state government: “I’m a native born Georgian who believes his word is his bond. In my four years in the state senate, there was never the slightest question of my ethics.” He expressed concern that the council was being unduly censorious of citizens attempting to voice strong opinions, saying that “if you have a position, you cannot talk to your councilor.”
Hodges responded to his assertion that hewing to the 2007 legal requirements renders his property unbuildable by pointing out the city’s ethical obligations to follow the law and denying that city staff, such as Callahan or historic preservation commissioner Ken Kocher, had advised the council in their decision. Mayor Fred Perriman added that the city did not want to appear partial to any one individual, to which Warren replied that he would rather not wait and suggested that Perriman should more strongly assert his authority: “You run this city.”
Expressing sympathy for Warren’s concerns over the delays involved in requesting a variance or text amendment, councilman Joe DiLetto said that there has “to be a way to make what [he] wants to do acceptable.” Councilman Rick Blanton, after seconding Peters-Reid’s motion to table the appeal so Warren could seek a variance, also voiced concerns about the legal implications of possible action: “What happens if we try to override? It could violate state zoning procedures, which require 15 days [of review after an application].”
Warren continued to spar with the council, but said he had no grievances with the Mayor or council itself, but rather with Callahan, suggesting that no one in city government is willing to disagree with her interpretations of zoning rules. For her part, Callahan explained the goal of the current zoning requirements is “to protect neighbors. The law says the neighbors have a due process right to be heard,” adding that in Warren’s case a variance is highly likely. She also stressed that she had no personal stake in the property under discussion: “This is not Monica’s section.”
The motion to table passed, with Bobby Crawford abstaining due to his professed lack of sufficient research into the topic. Warren voiced his disquiet with the decision, saying it contributed to the perception of Madison as a town hostile to new development: “There’s a non-growth aspect to Madison--it [seems like] it is non-receptive to growth, commercially and real-estate wise.”
The next period to apply for zoning variances and text amendments begins on April 18.