Madison’s Redevelopment Commission pledged $50,000 toward the cost of an upcoming project to review and assess every sidewalk in the city in terms of condition and accessibility as part of a massive sidewalk improvement program Mayor Bob Courtney hopes to launch over the next several years.
The review, perhaps the first comprehensive review ever of sidewalks in both Madison’s downtown and hilltop, will be conducted by HWC Engineering of New Albany, with a goal of providing the city with a complete breakdown of sidewalk infrastructure Madison and the detailed information necessary to pursue federal Americans with Disabilities Act compliance grants.
With the city looking to spend more than $1 million on addressing its sidewalk problems over the next three years and into the future, knowing which area needs work most and being prepared to pursue funding in a competitive grant program are essential to the project.
The work will not only involve assessing the overall condition of sidewalks but curbs, crosswalks, bathrooms and other facilities in a comprehensive evaluation on where Madison stands.
Courtney said the study will likely show that Madison’s sidewalks are in need of a lot of work — no substantial maintenance or improvements have been made in years — but the city may actually realize that even its better sidewalks don’t meet ADA compliance due to condition, amount of incline and other issues which limit those with disabilities.
“The only work we’ve really done on sidewalks for years is to replace some damaged sidewalk — especially when a resident offers to split the cost 50-50,” Courtney said after the meeting. “I think we can spend millions fixing the problems and it could take years.”
In other business, the Redevelopment Commission heard a presentation on ways to better leverage money collected by the city’s Tax Increment Financing zone — the approximately $4 million generated annually by the TIF that the Redevelopment Commission then uses to help grow business, industry and economic and community development.
Courtney said by using that money to finance bond issues — borrowing money with the TIF receipts used for repayment — the community could tackle bigger projects sooner, meet long-term needs now and still keep enough cash in reserve to be able to act when an opportunity arises.
The Commission gave its endorsement to investigate the process further to see just how much leverage the city could expect based on the annual TIF collections. If the strategy proves sound, the Commission could give it further consideration and possible approval at a later date.
One such opportunity was presented at Tuesday’s meeting when Habitat for Humanity came before the Redevelopment Commission asking for funding to help lay the groundwork for a new subdivision off Lanier Drive that would eventually provide lots for six Habitat homes.
Habitat was asking for $150,000 of a $200,000 project to provide the infrastructure necessary to create building lots for a subdivision that would be called Clifty Woods near the Habitat’s Restore property on Lanier Drive. The work would include streets, curbs, storm sewers and other utilities to locate six homes on a cul-de-sac.
Courtney endorsed the project, noting the homes will be owner occupied and probably valued at about $150,000 each when finished with the owners working through Habitat to get them built through the support of volunteers. The program also educates the new home owners — about 30 such potential home owners would likely apply for the opportunity — on the financial responsibilities of ownership and requires that they contribute sweat equity to the project.
The mayor noted added an initial $150,000 investment could develop an unused tract of land into about a $900,000 subdivision for the city’s property tax rolls while meeting underserved housing needs in the community.
“They will be beautiful homes with good construction,” Courtney said.
Having the money on hand to commit to the project, the Redevelopment Commission voted unanimously to pledge $150,000 to the work with $100,000 allocated this year and $50,000 in 2022.
Once damaged beyond survival by the emerald ash borer, a huge white ash located just feet from Clifty Drive on Madison’s hilltop was destined for the chainsaw either way.
But letting go of a big tree that had been around a lifetime proved difficult for property owners Chris and Karol Kirk, and the thought of reducing the once beautiful specimen to a pile of firewood just added insult to injury. So in the end they called on artist Brian Christman to turn what was left and salvageable — a thick, rock-solid 13-foot trunk — into a work of art that will now stand many more years as an iconic landmark along Clifty Drive just across from the entrance to Clifty Falls State Park.
“It had been dead awhile and loose branches were falling and we couldn’t let it fall on the traffic on Clifty Drive so something had to be done,” said Karol Kirk, whose parents Joe and Ann Goley lived in a farmhouse that used to stand nearby on the property. “Now it’s going to be a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork that people can see for years. The tree’s not rotten and once Brian is done he will put sealer on it and we will reapply when we have to and there’s no telling how long it will last there.”
Christman agreed, noting that once the borers killed the big tree by damaging it enough to cut off nutrients, part of the ash had to come down with it being located so close to the highway. However, the remaining trunk is as solid as ever — the white ash is a favorite among baseball bat makers so that’s pretty solid — and should stand for a long, long time once he’s done with his work.
A US Air Force veteran and former nurse, Christman got into chainsaw carving about 14 years ago and has been devoted full-time to the art the last 3 1/2 years, sawing out 100s of figures from as small as a foot to as big as 23 feet.
Originally from Vevay but now based in Pleasant, Christman travels the eastern US from Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky to the north in the summer to south into Florida in the winter, creating art from of blocks of wood big and small using an array of chainsaws. Tuesday he began work on the Kirk’s commission to create a grouping of three blue herons with the big ash — a project he hoped to complete by Wednesday while working atop scaffolding with traffic whizzing by just feet away in the 2200 block of Clifty Drive.
Kirk said blue herons were selected for the commission because the birds carry special meaning to her and her husband. A pond on the back of their farm has three nesting pairs and where they winter in the Florida Keys is also frequented by herons.
She can’t wait to see what Christman creates because she’s admired his work for years and even owns three much smaller pieces that he carved previously.
Christman’s work can be seen all over and some of his more portable carvings can be seen and purchased at Spoda’s on East US 50 in Dillsboro. He’s also completed several commissions for the city park in Aurora and will be doing another there this summer with a riverboat theme.
First of all, I have a couple of Hot Tips too hot to wait until the end of this article. On Saturday night at Off-Broadway Taproom, Michael Fierro, lead singer and guitarist for the band Snaps for Sinners, will be performing a solo show. The California-based Snaps have played in Madison numerous times, but always as a trio. This solo appearance should be special.
And secondly, Tyler Warden, lead singer for the band The Bottle Trees, is doing a solo show at Mad Paddle on Friday. I’ve seen Tyler several times fronting for the band, and he is a charismatic and expressive performer. Check it out on Friday if you are out and about.
And I might as well throw in a third recommendation. Jason Wells, the extremely talented and entertaining blues musician, will be bringing his band to Mad Paddle for the third time this Saturday. Don’t be surprised if local guitar hero Tom Steveley sits in for a few songs!
As we head into the warmer months and COVID releases it’s grip (hopefully soon, please stay vigilant a little longer!) it’s worth taking stock of the many local music venues that will be coming online again.
Red Bicycle Hall, after a long slow winter of sporadic shows, is back with five shows in April and one scheduled already for May. Off-Broadway Taproom is consistently hosting music on Friday and Saturday weekly. Mad Paddle is committed to Thursday, Friday and Saturday weekly. And Thomas Family Winery is back with every music Saturday.
But it’s worth taking a look at some of the other venues, and thinking about how we can support them so they can be more consistent. Riverboat Inn features nice intimate solo acts fairly often. The Historic Broadway Tavern will pop in with a show from time to time, especially as it gets warmer and they can utilize their front patio area. Oh, and Joe Breeck at Rivertown Grill will be having music very soon, too.
The Elks Lodge is sponsoring music on a lot of Wednesdays and Thursdays, trying to fill in the mid-week demand for live entertainment. And I just got word that the Moose Lodge on the hilltop has a show coming up next week. Hopefully the American Legion will get back in the swing soon, too.
But a big one to watch out for very soon is the Lighthouse floating bar and restaurant down on Vaughn Drive on the riverfront. They are very close to opening back up, and they share a commitment to live music and being a contributing part of Indiana’s Music City.
The thing to remember about all these venues, especially the ones that are less than consistent, or only have music one night a week, is that it’s all based on economics and customer support.
All these venues love hosting live music, but it costs money to hire musicians, and there needs to be a consistent incremental increase in business to justify it. That’s where we, the music fans of Madison, come in. If we get off the couch and get out and fill these venues, then they will continue with live music. In fact, most of them will expand their music offerings, if the demand justifies it.
So get out there. Fill the seats and enjoy the show. And if you know the manager or owner of the venue, call them over and tell them how much you appreciate what they are doing. We are the key to Indiana’s Music City. Tell your friends, especially your out-of-town friends, about the great things happening here every weekend!
On a personal note, this Friday my wife and I will be “fully vaccinated,” to use the medical vernacular. It will be two weeks since our second COVID shot, so we are as virus-resistant as we’re gonna get. It is our intention to head down to Off-Broadway Taproom, sit at a stage front table (or maybe at the bar) and listen to the duo Vaguely Familiar play their almost-remembered song list. This is kind of a big deal for us, since it was just over a year ago that we last enjoyed an evening at our favorite little pub. We’ll still be wearing our masks when we can, respecting the space and health of those around us, but it’s time for us to start enjoying Madison music again. I urge you to join us!
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.
This Week in Music
Mad Paddle Brewery — Tracy & Elaine
Elks Lodge — Joe Perkinson
Mad Paddle Brewery — Tyler Warden
Off-Broadway Taproom — Vaguely Familiar
Riverboat Inn — Joe Perkinson
Mad Paddle Brewery — Jason Wells Band
Thomas Family Winery — Rivertown Ramblers
Off-Broadway Taproom — Michael Fierro
Riverboat Inn — Joe Perkinson & Deano Crafton
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb ended the state’s mandatory mask order on Wednesday but the Jefferson County Health Department is encouraging and advising all Jefferson County residents and visitors to continue to be vigilant and take responsibility for their safety and health as well as the safety and health of those around them by continuing to mask up, social distance and hand wash/sanitize, and to respect businesses that choose to keep COVID precautions in place.
The health department issued the advisory Wednesday afternoon while at about the same time officials from Madison, Hanover and Jefferson County also weighed in on the Holcomb’s latest executive order concerning the COVID-19 pandemic
Jefferson County is currently at a Blue advisory status and no restrictions are in place. However, this is subject to change if the county moves to yellow, orange or a red advisory status and one way to help prevent that from happening is to remain vigilant.
Madison Mayor Bob Courtney joined Hanover Town Council President Kenny Garrett and Jefferson County Commissioner David Bramer to issue a statement regarding their position on the governor’s announcement. Although Holcomb lifted the mask mandate, he extended the state’s public health emergency related to COVID-19 through April 30 and the local leaders said local policies will be no more restrictive than those issued by the state but urged residents to continue to exercise caution.
“Each municipality recognizes and affirms Governor Holcomb’s recent announcement ending the statewide mask mandate and limitations on gathering sizes beginning April 6 2021,” Courtney said in a release issued by the city. “In addition, we affirm that our local policies will not be more restrictive than that which has been proposed by Governor Holcomb. However, we will continue to consider a data driven approach in consultation with the Governor’s office, the Indiana State Department of Health, and our local health department, in determining future policy as necessary to promote public safety.
“Jefferson County has consistently had one of the lowest positivity rate averages in our 12-county region. We have maintained strong healthcare capacity in Jefferson County and thank our community members for their efforts to help contain our overall positivity and transmission rates,” Courtney continued. “We support and appreciate the Governor’s free COVID testing program, and increased vaccination availability that helped us “Get Back to Blue” and urge residents to take advantage of these.
“We encourage Madison, Hanover and Jefferson County residents to follow all CDC protocols to protect their own health as needed. We also encourage residents to respect businesses who wish to keep the precautions in place,” he said.
Along those lines, the local health department urged all Jefferson County residents and visitors to get vaccinated against COVID-19. With four local vaccine sites to choose from, local residents age 16 and older can schedule vaccination by visiting www.ourshot.in.gov or by calling 211. Vaccine being given locally so far includes Moderna, Pfizer — both two shot processes — and the single dose Johnson & Johnson. All 16- and 17-year-olds must receive the Pfizer vaccine.
Additionally, the health department encouraged all residents to seek testing if they develop symptoms of COVID-19. Jefferson County currently has two free testing sites and tests can be scheduled by visiting www.coronavirus.in.gov. For more information about the latest guidance from Governor Holcomb or testing and vaccination availability, visit www.coronavirus.in.gov.
“The health, safety, and well being of all Jefferson County residents and visitors remain a top priority for the Jefferson County Health Department,” said the release, issued by JCHD Administrator Tammy Monroe, “please enjoy all the spring festivities our beautiful county has to offer, but please do so safely.”
Madison City Council Tuesday night heard the first reading of an ordinance that would open up more city streets to golf cart traffic while also attaching some safety standards in the number of passengers allowed to ride in carts and mandating that children requiring child seats in cars be adequately restrained in golf carts.
Madison has allowed golf cart use on most city streets since 2009 but getting from the hilltop to downtown or vice versa has always been a roadblock for users following the letter of the city law.
In the wake of Jefferson County’s decision last August to open its County Roads to golf cart and ATV traffic, the city held the first reading of an amendment to its cart ordinances that would finally allow carts to make once forbidden highway crossings connecting the north side of Clifty Drive to the south side and the hilltop to downtown.
Golf carts would still not be allowed on State Road 56 from Main Street to the top of Hanover Hill or State Roads 62 and 7. US 421 or any federal highway would also continue to be off limits, but carts would continue to be allowed to cross Main Street at intersections with traffic signals downtown and at the traffic lights where Wilson Avenue and Cragmont Street intersect with Clifty Drive on the hilltop.
In addition, crossing of US 421 would be allowed at the right angle intersections of Walnut Street and Aulenback Avenue downtown and the Orchard Street and Green Road intersection on State Road 7 on the hilltop. The route connecting the hilltop and downtown would be via Hatcher Hill.
Under the proposed guidelines, a person with a golf cart and enough patience and street knowledge should be able to navigate their way throughout the city limits and even into the county based on the ordinance.
However, the ordinance also adds language limiting the number of passengers allowed to the recommended number of passengers based on the cart’s factory seating. Also, children who ride in child seats in other vehicles, would have to be restrained in golf carts.
“The intent of this amendment is to bring some safety to the ever-growing population who are using that as their mode of transportation throughout our community and it’s really an opportunity to connect the county to the north of Clifty Drive with the City of Madison by allowing them to cross Clifty Drive at designated areas and safely get downtown to partake in any of our festivals or events, shopping, restaurants and any of the that kind of thing,” said the amendment’s sponsor Councilman Curtis Chatham. “Really, the intent was to bring some safety aspects into this. That’s where we address the passengers and kids ... hopefully we don’t see any more parents holding their kids while they’re driving their golf cart.”
The amendment would still need a second and third reading before it can be voted on so there will be opportunities for additional input or questions.
In fact, the council already posed the question of whether the amendment should also address ATVs since side-by-sides are allowed on county roads and allowing golf carts from the county onto city streets but not ATVs could cause confusion. In addition, Hanover Town Council is apparently considering its own golf cart ordinances so there could be reason to get all three governments together for a more comprehensive and consistent policy on usage.
In other business, the council:
• Heard a report by Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff Mindy McGee that the city stands to receive about $2.5 million over the next two years from the federal American Rescue Act approved recently. She said the staff will be looking at ways to leverage those funds to do the most good for the community.
In addition to Madison, Jefferson County stands to receive about $6 million and Hanover about $750,000 out of the overall $3 billion awarded to Indiana.
Courtney said the key will be to target infrastructure needs that will serve the community well into the future because the allocation is “a once in a lifetime opportunity” to make a difference.
• Approved issuing letters of support to two applications for three-way liquor licenses — Rivertown Grill, 321 Jefferson Street and Crafted Coffee Madison, 329 West Main Street — that will now be sent on for state consideration. The businesses, both relatively new, must commit to generating $66,600 in food sales in the first year, $100,000 the second year and $125,000 the third in order to keep the license if awarded.
• Heard a presentation by the Future Problem Solvers at Madison Junior High School after their class identified an important issue in the community — Pollution Awareness Week — and considered cost effective solutions. The group noted that eliminating pollution like trash and debris in Madison is something that essentially costs nothing but effort and awareness but can have a huge impact on the community.
• Heard the second reading of an ordinance to vacate two alleys on the west end of downtown Madison adjoining the Heritage Trail Park but delayed a third reading and passage to allow time for additional consideration. Rick Grote attended the meeting and spoke in favor of closing the alleys but retaining easements to maintain the option of using that space for additional parking at the new Riverside Tower Lofts should the need be identified.