Madison County, named after a slave-owning Founding Father, scuttles statue plan

Madison County never expected to find itself amid the national debate over the removal of controversial monuments.But just the idea of erecting a statue after the county's namesake has caused an uproar.James Madison wasn't a confederate leader, though. The nation's fourth president was, however, a slave owner. In the kind of predicament foreshadowed by President Donald Trump last summer, county officials are shelving plans to erect the Madison statue, county administrator Dan Dykes said. Other financial priorities also played a role in the decision."Ten years ago nobody would have thought anything about it," Dykes said. "Today, you have issues down South, and the thought patterns of people have changed. That's not what they want." More: Here are 6 Indiana statues that stir controversy More: Can your dog be arrested for using a cannabis extract? More: Congress passed tax cuts. Will Indy's wages go up? Madison County is amid a $3.5 million asbestos-abatement project that also includes a remodeling of the courthouse, Dykes said. Officials also are adding improvements outside the building, as well, including benches, tables, landscaping and a platform with a piece of public art."We did get some money from the food and beverage tax to do something outside the courthouse," Dykes said. "The statue, it was an idea."Madison’s credentials as a Founding Father are substantial. He served in the Continental Congress, was one of the authors of The Federalist Papers, played an instrumental role in writing the Constitution and was key in the structuring of the Bill of Rights. But Madison was also a slave owner, who kept slaves until his death and is also considered responsible for the three-fifths rule, which counted slaves as less than a whole person for the purposes of legislative representation. Jerry Bridges, executive director for the Madison County Council of Governments, a regional Continue Reading

Killearn Country Club housing development plan rejected

The Tallahassee-Leon County Local Planning Agency has rejected a request by Barton Tuck to allow denser housing development on a part of Killearn Country Club’s golf course.Tuck had requested an amendment to the comprehensive plan to change five areas of the nine-hole Narrows course from recreation space to urban residential and residential preservation, affecting about 41 acres. Attorney Danny Manausa said Tuck wants to sell the land for $3 million to finance club renovations.The LPA voted 3-2 to deny the request, after holding it over for a week for further study. The final decision rests with the City Commission.The requested changes would allow for a mix of housing types from single family to townhouses, duplexes and multifamily dwellings with a range of 3.5 to 9.2 units per acre.The proposal has been a source of controversy and legal challenges, some of which are still unresolved. Manausa said he's been working with the Killearn Homeowners Association to resolve outstanding issues and come to some sort of agreement.Residents said their property values would go down and traffic would increase. Planning Commissioner Robert Deyle said it was a perfect example of spot zoning, where a change to a single parcel benefits the landowner to the detriment of surrounding property owners. Contact Schweers at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers. Continue Reading

Homeowners object to planned zoning changes

Along with the Christmas reindeer and blow-up Santas, red signs have been decorating the yards of angry homeowners in Myers Park, Woodland Drives, Seminole Drive and Indian Head Acres in recent weeks.The signs express homeowners’ opposition to a city proposal to sell off a 9.5-acre piece of property across the street from Myers Park and the Wade Wehunt pool to some as yet unnamed developer to turn into a densely packed complex of about 100 residences and commercial space.That’s a density of about 10.5 housing units per acre in an area with a current density of 3-4 single family homes per acre.The land is occupied by the city’s iconic Parks Recreation and Neighborhood Affairs Department offices. It extends south to Van Buren Street and east to Myers Park Drive and north to the railroad tracks separating the property from Cascades park.Homeowners want to save the character of their neighborhood, as well as the parks department offices. They’ve even got a Facebook page dedicated to saving the 41-year-old buildings. And they want to keep public land in the public domain.“We don’t want to lose the park offices, and the plan is not in character with the neighborhood,” said Mary Frederick, president of the Woodland Drives neighborhood. “It’s public land and we feel uncomfortable with the city selling public land, they shouldn’t be doing that.”Selling the land could net the city as much as $1.5 million. It has a current market value of $1.7 million, according to the Leon County Property Appraiser’s website.The sale and development are still a long way off, planners said. Several steps must be taken before the land can even be sold. And whoever buys the property will have to conform with the Architectural Planning Board’s recommendations."This will ensure that any proposed development would fit within the historic fabric of the neighborhood," said Alison Faris, the city's communications Continue Reading

Defunding Planned Parenthood would curtail N.J. care

It's business as usual these days at the Planned Parenthood center in Paterson, but if Republicans in Congress succeed in defunding the organization, big change may be coming.On a recent afternoon, a 22-year-old woman stopped by to pick up birth-control pills. Another, age 20, dropped in to find out about Depo-Provera, the birth-control injection that lasts three months, and other options. Another arrived with her boyfriend, for reasons she did not want to discuss with a reporter.Thirty patients a day, five days a week, visit the center. They come for family-planning information and supplies; tests for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV; screenings for cervical cancer; and, in some cases, medication that induces an abortion, or a referral to a center that performs one.The Paterson center's quiet orderliness stands in contrast to the heated rhetoric in Washington about Planned Parenthood. The organization's foes, fighting abortion with the passion that 19th century abolitionists fought slavery, are pushing to end all federal funding for the century-old provider of reproductive health services. And with Republicans in power in the White House and Congress, they see this as their moment.Services at about 650 Planned Parenthood centers, including 26 in New Jersey, will be at risk if Congress follows through on proposals to "defund Planned Parenthood" and slash federal family-planning funding. The proposals include ending Medicaid reimbursement for any services patients receive at Planned Parenthood sites. Private insurance coverage for abortions also is at risk.Congress took the first step when it voted to use the budgeting process, which requires only a simple majority, in future efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Included in that resolution was a provision to strip federal funds from Planned Parenthood. President Donald Trump reinstated a ban on funds for organizations that promote abortion abroad, such as the Continue Reading

Final desert renewable energy plan still a long way off

State officials have spent six years working on a plan to encourage renewable energy development in the desert — and they're still at least a year away from finishing their work.Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger first asked for such a document in November 2008, when he signed an executive order calling for regulators to streamline the permitting of large-scale solar, wind and geothermal projects in the desert. Schwarzenegger directed agencies to release a draft of the plan by the end of 2010, and a final plan by June 1, 2012.But crafting the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan has taken far longer than anyone expected. Regulators released a draft in September 2014 — nearly four years behind schedule — with a public comment deadline of Jan. 9, which has since been moved back to Feb. 23.Now, it looks like the final plan won't be ready until at least the end of this year.The California Energy Commission voted last week to extend its contract with the Aspen Environmental Group, a private-sector consultant that has worked extensively on the renewable energy plan, through May 31, 2016. State and federal agencies have set a deadline for themselves of finalizing the plan by this December."We are in a really critical juncture," energy commissioner Karen Douglas said at a Jan. 14 meeting in Sacramento, before the five-member commission unanimously approved the contract extension. "This is what I strongly hope to be, and expect to be, very close to the culmination of a very long road."Aspen, which is based in Agoura Hills and has an office in Palm Springs, conducted significant portions of the plan's environmental impact analysis. According to the group's website, it has studied the impacts of renewable energy development on greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, agriculture, public land use and transmission infrastructure, among other areas.Aspen was paid handsomely for that work, starting with a three-year, $18.6 million contract that was initially meant to Continue Reading

Renewable energy plan frustrates solar industry

Six years ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger set a lofty goal for California policymakers: Speed up renewable energy development across the desert while protecting threatened species and minimizing environmental impacts.Today, state and federal officials are still working on a sprawling plan that would respond to Schwarzenegger’s executive order. But few of the groups the plan is supposed to help are happy with what they’ve seen — least of all the solar industry.The problem, industry insiders say, isn’t necessarily that the plan would make solar development more difficult. Rather, it’s that they have no idea whether the plan would make solar development more difficult.“The document hasn’t provided any certainty. If anything, its lack of coherency has provided more uncertainty, more questions than answers,” said Shannon Eddy, executive director of the Large-scale Solar Association, a Sacramento trade group that represents developers. “We are still talking with the agencies and trying to discern what’s what.”The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan would rewrite the ground rules for renewable energy development across 22.5 million acres of California desert. Regulators released a draft of the plan in September, laying out “development focus areas” where solar, wind and geothermal projects would be fast-tracked.But while the plan’s preferred alternative outlines 1.7 million acres where solar development would be encouraged, solar industry officials are skeptical that it would actually help developers. After months of studying the 10,000-page draft document, they say, they’ve yet to find evidence it would speed up development.Schwarzenegger’s executive order called for regulatory agencies to reduce permitting times by at least 50 percent. But solar executives say it’s not clear from the draft plan whether the permitting process will be faster or slower, or whether it Continue Reading

Desert clean energy plan still not inspiring confidence

California will need to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, as mandated by Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers earlier this month. But in the desert, an ambitious plan to promote clean energy development is limping toward the finish line.The first finish line, anyway.State and federal officials are expected to release part one of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan in November, designating energy development zones and conservation zones across 17 million acres of California desert. It’s not yet clear how the plan will differ from a draft released last year, but conservationists and renewable energy groups already have major concerns about how effective it will be — even after nearly seven years of work, tens of millions of dollars in consultants’ fees and more than 12,000 public comments.Among those concerns: The possibility that huge swaths of land won’t get designations of any kind, for conservation or for clean energy. Continued confusion over the legal process for permitting energy projects. And most of all, uncertainty over several million acres of private land, whose collective fate won’t be decided until some unknown point in the future.“There are a lot of moving parts, and I don’t think at the end of the day, it provides the kind of clarity we were hoping for,” said Lisa Belenky, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group. The Current: Sign up for email updates on all things water and energyThe renewable energy industry took off after President Barack Obama took office, with California's deserts serving as an epicenter for solar, wind and geothermal development. But that building boom alarmed conservationists, who feared the influx of energy plants would harm at-risk species and fragile ecosystems. Conservation groups began protesting proposed projects, slowing development.Hoping to resolve that conflict, Continue Reading

Tappan Zee Bridge bus plan won’t work, grad students say

The state's plan for a robust bus system around the Tappan Zee Bridge won't reduce congestion in the next five years and fails to address the difficulty of getting people out of their cars, a group of Columbia University urban planning graduate students says in a new report."There is no one solution that will solve congestion on the corridor. You have to look at a combination of approaches," said student David Perlmutter. "You have to look at a transit in a holistic way. You can't plop a line down and expect the region to be transformed."Even boosting existing bus service won't ease traffic conditions without other changes, the students argue.Seven Columbia graduate students in the urban planning program spent 14 weeks reviewing the same studies and information provided to a state mass transit task force, which revealed in February its proposal for improving mass transit along Interstate 287.The 31-member state panel — made up of elected officals and transportation and business leaders appointed by the New York State Thruway Authority — came up with a plan for a bus-rapid transit system to be implemented by 2018. The plan calls for seven routes throughout Westchester and Rockland, new stations, modern buses, dedicated bus lanes in some places and traffic signal technology to control traffic flow.The students emphasized that BRT can be successful in the future, but said leaders have to take into account certain challenges, such as the suburban sprawl of development. In particular, the panel's plan for bus stations along a stretch of corporate parks on Westchester Avenue won't work because the area lacks significant development people can walk to, the students said.In addition to transit-oriented development, state leaders need to consider tougher measures to encourage people to choose mass transit, the students said. Those include congestion pricing — tolls along the roadway during peak travel times or in certain lanes or a vehicle miles traveled Continue Reading

Grinstead, Lexington highrise plan moves forward

Developer Kevin Cogan has served notice of intent to proceed with the massive residential, hotel and office development at Lexington Road and Grinstead Drive.But he has told metro land-use regulators that the specifics are "to be determined."The preliminary concept discussed recently with neighbors showed several highrise buildings, including one with about 35 levels, at the 3.5-acre site bounded by Lexington, Grinstead and Etley Avenue across from Cherokee Park and just off an Interstate-64 interchange.Cogan, head of Jefferson Development Group and doing business as JDG Triangle Partners LLC, filed a "zoning pre-application" Thursday with the Metro Department of Planning & Design Services.The filing said the project will involve a "mixed-use planned development, along with a street and alley closure."Cogan's zoning lawyer, William Bardenwerper, said in a letter to the planning agency that the developers had three recent meetings with neighborhood groups to explain the plan and to get input.He said in the letter that Cogan and partners are "working on plan improvements in advance" of likely follow-up neighborhood meetings and "we thought it would be a good idea to at least enter the pre-app process," based on the preliminary concepts presented at the recent discussions.Cogan indicated he will seek a zoning category called planned development that encourages various uses.Cogan companies control the land in the triangle. The preliminary concept was for more than $200 million of development, including apartments, a 250-room hotel, plus extensive retail and office space. The existing Le Moo restaurant will be incorporated into the development.Cogan will eventually have to file a formal rezoning application, which would require a public hearing, Metro Planning Commission review and final approval by the Louisville Metro Council.Neighbors have expressed early concerns about the impact a skyscraper would have on surrounding property as well as Continue Reading

China planning agency approves plan to build Disney theme park in Shanghai

SHANGHAI - China's economic planning agency has formally approved a plan to build a Disney theme park in Shanghai, ensuring the city will have a new showcase attraction after next year's World Expo has wound down.The National Development and Reform Commission said in a notice Tuesday that the long-awaited park would be built, as expected, in Shanghai's eastern Pudong district.It said the project would initially occupy 116 hectares (287 acres) of land - a bit more than half the size of the Los Angeles park and potentially the smallest of the Disney theme parks worldwide. Only Hong Kong's park, at 126 hectares (311 acres) would be smaller."Really Minnie! Even Smaller than Hong Kong Disney" exclaimed a headline in the local newspaper Oriental Morning Post.Shanghai, China's biggest city, and Disney have yet to announce final details for the amusement park. But is likely to open in phases, and perhaps expand, as has the Disney theme park in Hong Kong, once business is established.Disney has said the initial phase of the project would include a Magic Kingdom-style park tailored to the Shanghai region, mainland China's commercial and financial hub. Plans call for it to open in 2014.Disney has gradually expanded its presence in mainland China after opening a theme park in Hong Kong in 2005 and now has offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.Shanghai is in the midst of a construction boom ahead of the World Expo, which will open May 1.Some residents were long ago moved off farmland in Chuansha, a part of Pudong district near the city's main international airport, to make way for the theme park. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading