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Riverfront Ruckus

City officials, residents iron out misunderstanding on camping

Property owner Chadwell smoothes
out controversy

(August 2020) – The classic battle between the rights of property owners and officials who are charged with determining and enforcing laws for the “public good,” is now taking place on the Madison, Ind., riverfront.
Mark Chadwell has now been enlightened by Madison city officials and some local residents about what he thought was his rights as a property owner and what the city has power to regulate. Chadwell owns three lots on the north side of Vaughn Drive, almost next to the Eagle Cotton Mill that is currently being renovated into a Fairfield Inn by Marriott.
Chadwell’s problems began when he made an agreement to sell one of the lots, and the new buyer moved his “high dollar ” trailer onto the property. Word spread through the grapevine and social media that Chadwell was opening a permanent campground with room for up to 18 trailers. A petition against the campground was passed around the community with hundreds of people signing it.
Next, the city building inspector informed Chadwell that he was in violation of the “Open Space Ordinance,” which protects an unobstructed view of the Ohio River on undeveloped lots along Vaughn Drive.
The city then removed the water meter which in effect negated the sale of the property. When he asked city officials what he could do to remedy the situation, he was told that his only option was to get a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals, thus setting up the meeting that took place at Madison City Hall on July 13.

Photo by Ben Newell

Madison, Ind., property owner Mark Chadwell poses at the riverfront beside a sculpture he created. He recently was entangled in a controversy over allowing campers on his land.


The meeting was packed, with social distancing being observed, with supporters of Chadwell’s property rights and those who were for having the variance be denied. The three and a half hour meeting began with the opposition being concerned that a permanent campground on Vaughn Drive was being established and how it would devalue the multi-million dollar, mile-long riverwalk.
It was also brought up that if the board granted this variance, it would set a dangerous precedent for more exemptions in the future, which would be a detriment to the riverfront.
Chadwell, a retired boilermaker, took the floor to quell the fears of some of those gathered. He assured them that he has no intention of starting a permanent business and only lets friends and others set up on his property four or five times a year.
“I don’t charge and only take donations, much of which I donate to the Regatta,” Chadwell said.  He claimed that he takes good care of his property and that he sent out letters to all his neighbors about his situation. and they were all supportive of him continuing his limited camping schedule.
Dan Cole, a former Madison Regatta president, stood up and spoke for Chadwell.
“Mark has been a great supporter of the Madison Regatta. He is an ex-Marine, and he keeps his word. Over the years he has given us donations, he volunteers at the gates and helps in the clean up, and we have had no problems whatsoever from people who camp on his property.”
After listening to the comments from the audience and deliberating with his committee, chairman Scott Baldwin announced its unanimous decision to approve Chadwell’s request for a variance. Rick Ferris, a member of the board, said, “We thought Chadwell did a good job clarifying some of the misconceptions about his operations on his property. He had strong support from people who know him and seems to be a good citizen.”
The board did attach a lengthy list of requirements to the variance. These included when Chadwell could have campers on the property and the length of their stay.
Also included were statements on permanent storage, fireworks and the number of campers allowed. It also stipulated that the variance was not transferable if the property is sold. These amendments seemed to be acceptable to both sides.
A few days later while sitting in the shade of the big trees on his riverfront property and discussing the whole process, Chadwell could only shake his head and declare, “I feel like I have been put in the penalty box, and I haven’t done anything wrong. My privacy has been invaded and my name smeared on social media by people who don’t even know me and what this operation is all about. I love the Regatta and have done what I can to help them out. We even have a special Regatta gate to my property to make it easier for disabled Vietnam vets to enjoy the festivities.”
One thing that Chadwell wanted to emphasize was that he had nothing but respect for the Zoning Board. “Those guys all work full-time jobs, and they are still willing to put time in for matters like this. They are to be commended.”
When asked why he serves on the board, Ferris said, “I do this because, even though it’s not much, I feel like I’m giving a little back to the community.”
On a lighter note, Chadwell says that if you’re driving in your golf cart or just walking along the riverwalk, stop by his properly and observe his driftwood art. If he’s there sitting in his chair he’ll give you a critique on what they are supposed to represent.

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