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Madison vets downtown development guide

Paul Snyder
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Consensus might be an impossible dream for a Madison plan that will guide downtown development for the next 25 years.

“Some themes develop,” said Mark Olinger, director of Madison’s Department of Planning and Development.

“But even at this scale, focusing on the downtown area alone, there’s still a lot of nuance that will occur over time.

“There is no one plan that could ever address all the issues we face.”

That was apparent Wednesday night as Madison residents, planners, developers and officials debated the pros and cons of the downtown plan, which is scheduled to debut in August. There was general agreement on issues such as better public access to Madison lakes and improved downtown park space.

But consensus proved elusive on issues dealing with building height limits and the types of developments for particular neighborhoods.

“How do we balance historic preservation with new density?” asked Alderwoman Marsha Rummel. “Can we explain the difference between infill and redevelopment? There’s not always a clear answer.”

That is why the city needs a plan that at least sets the framework for future development, she said.

“We could put this in place,” Rummel said, “and then in eight years, we’re saying, ‘Oh yeah, that didn’t really work.’”

Plan developers are targeting potential projects such as clearing out waterfront space on Lake Monona near the Machinery Row building on Williamson Street for an expanded park and building a boardwalk along Lake Mendota from James Madison Park to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Union.

But Madison developer Curt Brink said positive response to the projects does not mean they will happen.

“It all depends on the funding,” he said. “From block to block, we’re going to be looking at different issues.”

Those issues likely will include debate over whether the downtown plan coincides with downtown neighborhood plans, Olinger said. The downtown plan and the city’s comprehensive plan, which still is being developed, should make life easier for developers, Olinger said, but the conflicts with neighborhood plans will never disappear.

“What we’re doing is just providing an envelope about how density could occur,” he said. “But exceptions are always out there. Neither Bedford Court nor Nolen Shore (condominiums) fit in with the Bassett Neighborhood plan, but both went ahead, and I think they’re both good projects.

“It just takes some level of agreement.”

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