Funding proposals for three community projects totaling $250,000 were brought before the Jefferson County Council at its meeting Tuesday to receive consideration in March.
The projects, to be financed through American Rescue Plan funds, include $100,000 for the Ohio Theatre restoration, $80,000 for the Heritage Trail and $70,000 for the Crystal Beach Aquatic Park.
Even though there seemed to be an indication of support by County Council members, none of the projects could be voted upon at Tuesday’s meeting because the appropriations must be advertised before the Council can take action, meaning the Council will likely vote on them at its March 14 meeting.
The proposed funding of those projects would reallocate some of the $500,000 in ARP funds that had been reserved last year for a proposed strategic planning and marketing study of the former Jefferson Proving Ground that was rejected by County Council at its December meeting.
The $70,000 for the Crystal Beach Aquatic Park would go towards the replacement of Crystal Beach pool. Commissioner Bobby Little said the Commissioners wanted to commit $25,000 per year for 20 years from the county’s historic preservation fund towards the pool debt service.
“I am sure you are all well aware that the city is trying to re-do Crystal Beach swimming pool,” said Little, who noted Madison Mayor Bob Courtney had come before the Commissioners to ask “if we would help in some way shape or form, and we talked it over and thought it was a pretty good project that would not only help the city but county folks who go there too.”
While there was support for the Crystal Beach project, council member Chris Shelton expressed concern over the $25,000 annual commitment due to decreasing amounts coming into the historic preservation fund, which is financed through riverboat gambling revenues from Belterra Casino Resort in Florence, Indiana, through an interlocal agreement with Switzerland County.
Shelton said the county already provides $45,000 annually for the PACE program to Madison from the historic preservation fund and adding another $25,000 would earmark a total of $70,000 annually from a fund that has averaged $43,000 in receipts the last three years.
“We know that going back 10 years there’s been a constant decline because of (competition from) additional casinos in other states,” Shelton said.
With $417,955 currently in the historic preservation fund, Shelton said if the annual receipts remain at $43,000 per year that by the 16th year of supporting the pool debt service no funds will be left.
Council President Ray Black Jr. said that’s a legitimate concern, and before approving the request the Council will need to investigate the matter further to determine if there will be adequate funds available in the future to support a
$25,000 per year 20-year commitment to Crystal Beach.
“I think it’s a fantastic opportunity” for supporting Crystal Beach “but we don’t want to put the county in jeopardy,” said Black.
While discussing the proposed $100,000 allocation to the Ohio Theatre, Commissioner Ron Lee said the theater is a meaningful part of the community and a worthwhile project to support. He noted that as a child “it’s the first place I went to a movie … That money we want to give them will help keep it going, and build it up. It’s good for our county and city as well.”
Little agreed, noting the theater is a special place to the county, and he has good memories, too. “I remember going to the Saturday matinées” at the Ohio Theatre, Little recalled. “They’d have the clincher at the end, and you’d have to go back the next Saturday on the westerns to know what happened.”
Lee also noted that $70,000 is a worthwhile contribution to the Heritage Trail because it is an important part of the community. He commended the dedication of Bob Greene, executive director of the Heritage Trail Conservancy, and the committee that’s working to expand the trail for their effort so far and said the county should help with the next stage. “It’s good for the community, and that’s kind of what the ARP was about; to get people outside,” said Lee.
County Auditor Heather Huff estimated that about $1.3 million is left from the county’s $6.2 million ARP allocation. She said the county has been advised to hold back 10% of the ARP for an audit of those funds, and that by August it should be better known the amount needed for an audit.
If I had to use all 10 of my fingers, and take off my shoes and use my toes, I’d still probably not have enough digits to tally the number of interesting people I’ve met sharing a table at Thomas Family Winery. As things get crowded and cozy at the Winery, owner Steve Thomas tends to mix and match couples at the various tables, and it’s part of the magic of the Thomas Family experience.
A couple of weekends ago we were at the Winery to enjoy Obscure Neil Young night, and a young lady across the table from me recognized me (from my newspaper photo?) and said “You’re the reason we are here tonight! You said in your article that Neil Young night was a must see, so here we are.”
That young woman turned out to be Ericka Wilson, sitting with her husband, Jared. Ericka was born in Madison and has roots in this area, but she moved away after school. She ended up in Cincinnati where she met and married Jared, and then the pandemic hit.
“We were just ready for a change,” explains Ericka. “Ready to slow down a bit. We found a homestead place out around Smyrna here in Jefferson County, and we moved here about a year ago.” Ericka works as a freelance writer and Jared works for Enviroscape Landscaping.
At this point in the conversation, as we listened to one great Neil Young song after another, Ericka volunteered, “Jared is an accomplished musician himself. He writes music and sings and plays bass. Show them your thumbs, honey!”
Now at this point in the story we need to digress and explain that bass players exert a tremendous amount of pressure with their left hand, pressing the fat bass strings down against the fretboard. They must position their thumbs behind the neck of the bass to generate enough squeeze power. As a result, many bass player’s thumbs become permanently bent back, almost at 90 degrees.
Jared dutifully held up his two thumbs, and sure enough, the left one bent back way further than the right. “I need to do a story about you!” I declared, then and there.
Turns out Jared grew up not too far away in Jasper, Indiana, in a musical family, with musical brothers. “My brothers and I had a band in high school,” explains Jared, “One brother on guitar, the other on drums, and me on bass. We played the talent shows, the local Holiday Inn, the usual places. It was kind of a pop-punk sound.
“Eventually, after a stint at Indiana State and some bumming around, I met this drummer out of Bloomington and we started a band called “Wringer.” Still the pop-punk genre. We toured hard for about three years, New York, Boston, Texas, Florida, on out west.
“You have to understand, before I joined this band I’d barely been out of Indiana. We were doing seven shows a week, all over the country.
Even some into Canada and Mexico. It got me traveling and seeing the world. But things unravel over time and the band broke up.
“I ended up in Cincinnati playing in a bunch of different bands. That’s when I met Ericka. I got a job in landscaping and things kind of settled down. Then we moved to Madison about a year ago.
“Honestly, I’ve been pretty much full time fixing up our new house, getting it livable. But the truth is, I’m starting to get the music bug again. I’m settled in and ready to feel that energy of collaborating and performing. If anybody knows somebody who needs an experienced bass player …”
Red Bicycle Hall is in action both days this weekend, with Matt Red Moore and Jordan Wilson laying down the groove on Friday, and a spellbinding Johnny Cash & June Carter tribute show on Saturday. As of this writing, there are still tickets for both shows, but they will both likely sell out so act now if you want to go. RedBicycleHall.com.
Under the heading “Country singers can never have too many names” you should get over to the Taproom on Saturday to see Tyler Lance Walker Gill. Not Tyler Lance & Walker Gill, just the one dude and his band. And finally, if you’ve never been to a House of Jane Songwriter session, tonight, this Thursday, is your chance. It’s going to be a good one!
Charlie Rohlfing is a retired advertising man and partner in The Red Bicycle Hall music venue. Look for his distinctive fedora bobbing above the crowd, anywhere live local music is happening.
Thursday, Feb. 16
House of Jane — Cary Shields & Danny Flanigan
Rivertown Grill — DJ Dance Party
Friday, Feb. 17
Rivertown Grill — The Switch, w/Meaux Swafford
Red Bicycle Hall — Matt Red Moore w/Jordan Wilson
Brown Gym — Old School (Senior Citizens Dance 6:30 p.m.)
Saturday, Feb. 18
Rivertown Grill — Crossfire
Off Broadway Taproom — Tyler Lance Walker Gill
Red Bicycle Hall — A.R. Cash
The Central — Lickety Split
Thomas Family Winery — Celtica Ray Fae RenFaire Band
Sunday, Feb. 19
Rivertown Grill — Reuben Guthrie
Tuesday, Feb. 21
Off-Broadway Taproom — Open Mic Night
Wednesday, Feb 22
Rivertown Grill — Karaoke
A Madison homeowner’s proposal to operate an occasional small event venue out of her family’s historic home that formerly served as a bed and breakfast was denied after a handful of neighbors showed up at Monday’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) meeting with a petition opposing the project.
Catherine Evans and her husband, Brent, have been planning the project for months and working to secure all the required permits and approvals to operate a small event venue and airbnb out of their home at 1209 West Main Street locally known as Whitehall from when it served as a bed and breakfast.
The Evans want to host micro weddings and other small events of up to 80 guests perhaps two weekends a month on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons mostly in the formal garden behind their home as well as accommodate overnight guests in another historic home they purchased at 1326 and 1328 West Second Street in November 2022 for an airbnb while using their own home for overflows.
Evans has attended four BZA meetings, a couple of Plan Commission meetings and a Madison City Council seeking approval for the project and even going so far as to ask for and receive a zoning amendment to change the home from Medium Density Residential to Historic District Residential, which allows such event venues with fewer hurdles.
The only opposition or comments voiced in the past meetings was by BZA Chairman Scott Baldwin, who noted the Whitehall’s historic significance — the 1827 house was headquarters for surgeons when a noted Union military hospital was located on the west end of Madison during the Civil War — and past use as a bed and breakfast. He said the proper way to deal with the request was likely through a zoning change since Medium Density Residential does not include event venues.
“Until this meeting I have had nobody express any concerns,” said Evans, noting she was willing to work with neighbors to accommodate their concerns.
Mark Acosta, a member of the BZA, agreed, asking where was all the opposition in the past.
Several of the neighbors in attendance said they had not received notices of the applications and Evans countered that she had paid for certified letters to be mailed to the required property owners.
Rhonda Ross, who lives at 1223 West Main Street, brought the petition with 16 signatures. She said the concern is that the venue will add noise and traffic to a quiet neighborhood. Others said enjoying the beauty and solitude of their homes might be difficult with a wedding taking place next door.
“Our neighborhood is so quiet now and we don’t want noise or noisy music,” Ross said.
Sarah Patterson, who lives at 1225 West Main Street, said that a party venue “does not fall within the general character of the area.” The Madison Elks Club, located immediately to west, does have live music but it is far removed from the single family homes that line Main and Second streets.
Evans, who with her husband perform at local venues including her ice cream shop on Second Street, said the music the proposed event venue would offer would be recorded background music or something along the line of string quartets performing wedding music. She also said she could install a privacy fence if that would help.
None of the neighbors in attendance had any issue with Evans’ plans to operate an airbnb at her home or the adjoining property on Second Street. In the end, the BZA considered the applications separately and unanimously approved the airbnb while unanimously denying the event venue because it would likely change the essential character of the area and possibly be disturbing to other property owners.
“It’s unfortunate that it got to this point but we can’t ignore the number of signatures in opposition,” Acosta said, explaining his vote to deny.
Evans was disappointed with the decision after working on the project for so long and through so many governmental entities and meetings, but she said she is “happy the neighbors came out” to voice their concerns and objections. “The last thing I want is to spend a lot of money and then meet opposition later... this is one less thing on my plate tonight.”
She also thanked the BZA members “for doing your job.” She said she has resided in other communities where boards approve developments despite local opposition and she believes residents should have a voice, be heard by city officials and have their concerns considered.
Madison’s Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) both approved applications on Monday for a developer to locate a gas station, convenience store and restaurant with drive through on 20 acres zoned Light Manufacturing at 3910 North Michigan Road.
Representatives of developer Crystal Pavy attended both meetings seeking and receiving an accessible parking plan from the Plan Commission and a conditional use permit from the BZA to build on the site.
Project manager Tim Ross, who lives near Rexville in Ripley County, said the plan is to develop what will be the only fuel station for about 17 miles on US 421 between Versailles, Indiana, and Milton, Kentucky, following a recent trend of fuel/convenience stores developing at the major highways into and out of Madison’s hilltop.
The business would be independently owned but BP-branded with five fuel islands on one side of the structure and two diesel islands on the other side plus a convenience store in between as well as a JustRite Restaurant franchise with about eight tables and a drive through.
The property where the project will be developed is a former concrete plant site that has become an illegal dumping ground and unauthorized parking spot for tractor trailers and other large vehicles as well as an occasional place for drug transactions and firing weapons, said Ross, as well as a neighbor, Devin Best, whose home sits within the site.
Given that the project will involve both diesel pumps and a restaurant, some of the concerns voiced by both Plan and BZA members was whether the business would allow overnight parking by tractor trailers similar to a truck stop.
Located near the intersection of US 421 and Dawson Smith Road, Ross said part of the property is a wooded wetland that cannot be developed so the usable portion of the site will not be large enough to accommodate truck parking and in fact the property will include signs prohibiting such use.
“We’re not building a facility for truck traffic where trucks will be idling all night long,” Ross said, noting the diesel pumps will mostly serve farm trucks because most commercial fleet vehicles have specific stations where they refuel under contract so any trucks would mostly be independent truckers.
Vance said he has seven children between newborn and age nine so he’s concerned about traffic, noise, vapor from the fuel tanks and strangers coming and going so close to where his children live and play. However, he acknowledged that big trucks, people illegally dumping, drug dealers and people firing weapons already use the site so there are already issues with the property.
“Our place will stop all of that,” Ross said. “Everybody now thinks it’s just a vacant lot but once we’re there that will stop and there were be cameras on site.”
Plan Commission and BZA both unanimously approved the applications. The BZA’s approval came with a stipulation that the developer construct a privacy fence along the Vance property line and that the conditional use permit be renewed after two years.
The two-year stipulation drew some concern from the developers, who will sink $3 million into the project, but the BZA board members explained that as long as the owner lives up to the conditions set and there are no valid complaints, the renewal would be automatic. It was also noted that the owner could seek to have the property rezoned and take it out of the hands of the BZA or come back after two years requesting a longer approval period.
In other business, at the suggestion of Chairman Scott Baldwin, the BZA agreed to change its meeting time from 6:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. or 10 minutes after conclusion of Plan Commission meetings.
Plan and BZA currently share the same night — the second Monday of each month — with Plan at 5:30 p.m. However, Plan Commission often takes only 15-30 minutes to complete its business with BZA waiting to start its meeting until 6:30. The change should allow BZA to start earlier on most nights.