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Edgewater amendment limps toward commission

The Edgewater Hotel in Madison. Brookfield-based Hammes Co. will present an informational meeting to the city’s Plan Commission on Monday. (Rendering courtesy of the Hammes Co.)

The proposed Edgewater Hotel redevelopment in Madison has been subject to much debate. The Plan Commission is scheduled to vote on a waterfront setback amendment on Feb. 8. (Rendering courtesy of the Hammes Co.)

By Paul Snyder

A Madison zoning amendment designed to grease the skids for the Edgewater Hotel redevelopment is drawing fire for the precedent it would set for other projects.

The amendment, presented by Alderman Mark Clear, would eliminate the city’s waterfront setback requirement for commercial properties.

The Plan Commission is scheduled to vote on the amendment Feb. 8. When that happens, the commission will consider the recommendation of the city’s Committee on the Environment, which unanimously opposed the amendment Monday night.

William Sonzogni, a committee member, said he supports Brookfield-based Hammes Co.’s proposed $93 million redevelopment of the Edgewater. But, he said, the amendment is not good for the environment.

“The way the ordinance is read,” he said, “it allows all commercial development to go through the same process.”

Since Clear proposed the amendment earlier this month, critics have called the removal of the setback a gateway to more commercial development along Madison’s shoreline.

According to current zoning code, a nonresidential building’s minimum setback is based on the average setback of the principal buildings around the proposed development. The amendment would let the Plan Commission decide on the setback when issuing a conditional-use permit.

But most lakefront properties in Madison are residential, Clear said, so any argument is uninformed when claiming the amendment opens the door to more commercial projects.

“It’s like having an ordinance that’s been around 45 years against putting a nuclear reactor in Madison,” he said. “Well, OK, we don’t have a nuclear reactor. But no one’s going to build one here anyway.”

That’s a valid argument, said Alderwoman Lauren Cnare, who is a member of the Plan Commission. But it does not change the fact that the amendment will affect future development and the environment.

“(The Committee on the Environment) is charged with keeping the environment from further developmental damage,” she said. “We’re supposed to look at land-use issues on the Plan Commission, but it all works together.”

City Zoning Administrator Matt Tucker said staff members and the committee charged with rewriting the city’s zoning code discussed setbacks for nonresidential properties but never made a final decision. He said Clear’s amendment essentially forces the Plan Commission to set the course for the Edgewater and any future commercial projects.

But, Clear said, it’s important people not overestimate the power of his amendment.

“It’s not like these developers will just be able to build,” he said. “They still have to go to the Plan Commission, let them determine an appropriate setback and approve it in a conditional-use permit.

“There’s nothing about this that makes commercial development along the lake more feasible.”

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