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Madison Web site targets developers

Paul Snyder
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Madison wants its new “one-stop shop” Web site to eliminate some of the confusion and frustration developers and residents experience when seeking project approval.

“The hope is that this encourages more development,” said Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. “Perhaps it can condense approval times and lower barriers to good development in the city.”

Kent Disch, government affairs director for the Madison Area Builders Association, said anything the city can do to lighten bureaucratic burdens on area developers is a plus. But he also said the city cannot rest on its laurels.

“I hope this is a first step to a point where regulation can flow smoother,” Disch said. “Hopefully, we can get to a point where developers don’t have to visit the Plan Commission or Urban Design Commission three times before they get approval or run across the street several times between City Hall and the Municipal Building for any number of reasons.

“But, as a first step, you’ve got to say this is a good thing.”

Sarah Edgerton, the city’s webmaster, said the new Development Services Center Web site is just one of several improvements the city plans to make to the development review process. In addition to guiding users through 86 different development-related processes, the site also offers detailed plans of projects under city consideration and opportunities for neighbor comments.

The development process should improve further when the city completes a rewrite of its 43-year-old zoning code, said Brad Murphy, the city’s planning division director.

“But (the Web site) should help people avoid missteps in the development process,” he said.

Madison developer Curt Brink called the Web site a valuable tool in helping developers learn where projects are in the approval process and what steps developers need to follow.

“Anything that can help, I think is going to be a positive,” he said.

But not all developers sang the city’s praises. Erik Minton said the Web site launch came too late for his project, and he does not know if he will use the site.

“I just got my first approvals in six years, and, frankly, I’m exhausted,” he said. “I hope I never have to go through (Madison’s approval) process again.”

Minton on Monday night received Plan Commission approval of his five-story, mixed-use building proposed for the 400 block of West Washington Avenue. The approval puts Minton one step closer to the end of several years’ worth of plan changes and debates about whether the building’s five stories meet neighborhood guidelines, which call for buildings no taller than four stories.

Though he commended city staff for trying to make the processes easier, Minton said neighborhood commentary on proposed projects is a threat to developers.

“Ultimately, you end up worrying about the three or four people that might really speak up against a project,” he said. “Should developers really have to bank on a fluke?”

City staff said residents’ input on projects and plans would be an important component of the new Web site.

But Cieslewicz said the main goal is to make things as easy as possible for developers.

“In today’s economic climate,” he said, “we need to continue to work to provide the resources to all those who want to invest in our community.”

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