MADISON — A decision by the Planning & Zoning Commission to rezone Malco Cinema has set up a showdown between the Tennessee-based movie chain and the city’s leadership next Tuesday.

The city’s commission voted 4-2 Monday in favor of re-zoning the property that contains Malco’s Grandview Theater on Grandview Boulevard from C-2 Commercial to C-5 Commercial — a designation reserved for giant commercial properties like baseball stadiums and basketball arenas.

At issue is Malco’s plan to convert two of its existing 17 movie screens into a nine-lane bowling venue, which would be housed entirely within the confines of the current building.

Malco’s Vice President and Operations Administrator Donald Terry and Malco attorney Bill Featherston made a presentation of some of the design aspects for the new bowling venue, including blueprints and renderings, to the planning and zoning board Monday prior to the vote.

The problem Malco ran into is that the only mention of bowling alleys in the city’s current zoning ordinance is under the C-5 designation, which describes it’s permitted land use “Large FULLY ENCLOSED sports and recreational facilities such as skating rinks, bowling alleys, racquetball courts, gymnasiums and fitness centers and similar uses.”

Madison currently has no properties zoned for C-5 commercial. 

Featherston pointed out that neither party wanted to see the property re-zoned to C-5 and argued that re-zoning shouldn’t be necessary.

“It’s already an entertainment venue,” he said. “This proposal would just add another avenue for Malco’s customers to be entertained.”

The majority of the board agreed.

One member, Newlyn Madison, expressed her reservations about re-zoning the land and asked if there had been any attempt to allow Malco some sort of variance to build the nine bowling lanes without reclassifying the property.

“Because I think it’s absurd that they can’t do that,” Madison said. “And I am going to vote for it. I don’t want to change the nature of this area (by re-zoning), but if that’s what it takes, I’m going to support it.”

City Attorney Chelsea Brannan responded that a variance would not provide an avenue for the renovation because there is another zoning classification that specifically mentions bowling alleys.

Another board member, Terry McMullen, followed up by asking how the city has fitness centers if they are mentioned in the same line as bowling alleys.

“A use can be cross-allowed,” Brannan responded. “It may be allowed in both C-2 and C-3 if those zoning definitions are found to be well-suited to that use.”

Ted Allgood, a board member not known for grandiose, explained his support for the project.

“Whether you spend eight dollars for a movie ticket or eight dollars for a pair of bowling shoes, it’s all the same,” Allgood said. “I am inclined to vote for it, despite the fact I don’t necessarily want to change (the zoning), because I don’t feel like it needs to be done. It appears the city is against it for some reason, and I have no idea why. But I for one would love to see this.”

Ultimately, when it came time to vote, Planning and Zoning Board President John Reeves said he was siding with Madison’s leadership, which had guided the city for more than 30 years and made it what it is today.

The other member to vote with Reeves was Pam Cotten.

The board’s vote against the wishes of the city sets up another vote, which will be put to Madison’s Board of Aldermen next Tuesday evening.

Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler said Tuesday she doesn’t know how the aldermen will rule, but expressed her disappointment with planning and zoning.

“When we change zoning and start allowing special exceptions, we might as well throw away our comprehensive plan and change the land-use map,” Hawkins-Butler said. “That’s our map for success. Once you make that determination (to re-zone to C-5), you could end up with a used a car lot there.

“They are trying to create a bar and bowling alley and a theater in one building. If they want to have a bowling alley, they need to apply for one that isn’t in the theater. They can talk about doing this all over the country and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. This is Madison.”

Hawkins-Butler added that Malco knew what the property’s zoning designation was when they built the theater.

Featherston said Tuesday Malco had not sought a license from the state to sell any kind of alcohol at the Madison venue, arguing that the current issue has nothing to do with a now-shelved plan to build a bar in the facility or seek a permit to sell liquor.

“This is strictly about adding nine bowling lanes to the existing entertainment venue,” he said.