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Edgewater still riding Madison merry-go-round

(Rendering courtesy of city of Madison)

(Rendering courtesy of city of Madison)

By Paul Snyder

The Madison Common Council will not cast its final vote on the Edgewater Hotel redevelopment Tuesday.

It might happen in March or April, said Alderman Mark Clear, but the project still lacks approvals from the city’s Urban Design Commission, Plan Commission and Board of Estimates, and those approvals will not be obtained by Tuesday.

“There’s definitely Edgewater fatigue setting in, both among city officials and the public,” Clear said. “I think there are a lot of people who are saying, ‘Get it through. Get it done.’”

But fatigue is the price Madison officials and residents must pay if the city insists on sustaining its inclusionary process for city approvals, said Barry Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“There’s a trade-off between providing efficiency and being welcoming to businesses or wanting to encourage public involvement,” he said. “Madison definitely leans toward the latter.”

The disadvantage, Burden said, is a long wait for approvals from amateurs who volunteer for Madison commissions and committees. The advantage, he said, is ample time for public input.

In the case of the Edgewater proposal, the city has deliberated for nearly eight months and pushed one decision forward — the Plan Commission’s Feb. 8 approval of a change to the city’s zoning ordinance that would allow the development to sidestep waterfront setback requirements.

The Common Council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the amendment Tuesday, but there are no plans to vote on anything else related to the estimated $93 million project.

The city’s Urban Design Commission has not yet voted on the project’s initial approval. The Plan Commission has not yet voted on the project’s size and visual effect on the surrounding neighborhood. The city’s Board of Estimates has not decided if the project merits the $16 million in tax-incremental financing approved last year in the Madison budget.

City leaders say the reason for the lack of action is simple: Hammes Co., the project’s Brookfield-based developer, keeps changing its plans.

“They came into Wednesday’s meeting with major revisions,” said Bruce Woods, chairman of the Urban Design Commission. “They shifted the hotel tower 15 feet to the east and talked about a new underground parking garage.

“Overall, we’re pleased with the direction it’s going. It’s always getting better. But I told them they can’t surprise us again.”

Clear said every time the developer changes the plan, the city process essentially restarts. Any commission set to review a particular aspect of the project, he said, must reassess the entire idea.

“If the plans had never changed, it would be through the process,” he said. “I can’t tell you how it would have turned out, but it would be through the process.”

If the public opinion is that committees and commissions are listening, Burden said, it results in more civic pride for the project. He said it also could upset businesses that might find easier processes or more receptive audiences elsewhere.

Representatives from Hammes did not return calls for comment.

Woods said he has never witnessed the level of review directed at the Edgewater. He said he appreciates the project’s complexity and the drive to reach a common goal, but he would that such an approval process not happen again.

“It’s just too much,” he said.

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