Effort in Madison Granting Broad Zoning Flexibility Meets with Opposition Again

The former Madison Winter Club (Credit: Google Map Data, 2022)


TwitterFacebookCopy LinkPrintEmail

MADISON – After yet another attempt by a local restaurateur to turn a shuttered social club into a year-round restaurant was met with opposition from residents fearing broad changes to how large portions of the town could be developed, his attorney promised to come back with a plan that would limit the changes to only one property.

A proposal to pave the way for Frasher Lulaj to turn Madison’s Winter Club into a restaurant, by allowing developers to seek approval for “Planned Development Districts” over a large portion of Madison, was rejected in December after a long and contentious public hearing where members of the public said they were concerned with overdevelopment and believed the rules would make that worse.

Last Thursday, Lulaj and attorney Jeff Beatty, presented a scaled down proposal that would have extended the possibility of planned development districts to properties used by clubs or other non-conforming uses – which would include the Winter Club – and to properties within 400 feet of commercial or light industrial zones.

Previously, the plan would have allowed developers to apply for planned development districts on town-owned property, agricultural land, land along Interstate 95, land within 400 feet of the commercial district, or land “currently devoted to non-conforming uses adjacent to residential uses.”

Beatty said they tried to cut back the number of properties where a developer would be eligible to ask for a planned development district – which allows developers to build something not normally allowed by zoning regulations if the Planning and Zoning Commission approves a master plan for the development.

“Last month’s hearing was troubling, because it’s never been our intention to do anything other than say that we’d like the opportunity to come before the commission with a specific plan for a property that may not otherwise be permitted,” Beatty said. “But [we don’t want to] deprive the commission of the ability to say, ‘Yeah, we think that’s a good use of the property,’ or, ‘No, we don’t think that’s a good use of the property – you either need to come up with a new plan or it’s never going to be approved.”

The new proposal was meant to include the Winter Club, and other properties identified as development opportunities in the town’s plan of conservation and development, Beatty said. 

He said their first attempt to get the restaurant allowed last May was a proposal specific only to the Winter Club site, but he said the commission denied that as “spot zoning.” He said they would prefer to submit an application that only impacts the Winter Club, but the planned development district route was meant to work around the commission’s initial concerns.

“I can craft language where there’s only one property that fits all the criteria, and I’m happy to present that if the commission is comfortable approving that,” Beatty said. “The problem is, that if you try and create language that’s broad enough to include my client’s property, yet limited enough not to include anyone else’s property – that’s a very tough needle to thread.”

Beatty said they tried to accomplish it by allowing properties within 400 feet of the commercial and industrial zones, but that still drew in 274 additional properties.

But members of the public continued to raise concerns that it would pave the way for more cluster developments – unpopular with a portion of town residents who say over-development is changing Madison’s character.

Like at the December meeting, the residents who spoke against Lulaj’s application last week all said they supported his plans to turn the Winter Club into a restaurant – but they wanted him to do it in a way that didn’t open the door to new development on other properties in town.

Madison resident James Nordgren said he believed everyone wants to see Lulaj put a restaurant in the Winter Club, but that people would be outraged when they saw the map of how many properties would still be included even in the pared-down application.

“How would you ever be able to rationally ascertain the impacts that this [change] is going to have?” Nordgren said. “It would take years to study the impact on the environment, on traffic, on town taxes, on town services. It’s clearly a planning issue that belongs in the plan of conservation and development – and fortunately for everybody, that’s being updated right now.”

He urged Lulaj and the commission to make a regulation that only includes the Winter Club, and said he felt for Lulaj that the application was delayed multiple times – pinning the blame on lawyers for trying to involve other properties. 

Some residents asked why the property couldn’t just be changed to a commercial zone, which would allow the restaurant. Town Planner Erin Mannix said that the commission has denied zone changes intended to allow a specific use, because the property is then open to all of the uses allowed in the new zone. 

“This is always a fear that, we changed the zoning map and we changed the zone, and that can open you up to any of the uses allowed in that zone,” Mannix said. “When you have that master plan [with the planned development district], you’re only approving that zoning map amendment based on that specific development that is being proposed to you at that time.”

In their discussion, commission members shared the public’s concerns about opening too many properties to planned development districts. They decided to continue the public hearing to the commission’s February meeting, where Beatty said he’ll present another, pared down proposal.

“I’m going to make it very, very, very narrow,” he said. “We ultimately want it to be limited to one property.”