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Neighborhood group appeals commission’s Edgewater approval (UPDATE)

The proposed redevelopment of the Edgewater Hotel in Madison is being opposed by the Mansion Hill Historic District. Six members of the group are appealing the Madison Plan Commission’s March 23 decision to grant the estimated $93 million project a conditional use permit for waterfront development. (Rendering courtesy of the city of Madison)

The proposed redevelopment of the Edgewater Hotel in Madison is being opposed by the Mansion Hill Historic District. Six members of the group are appealing the Madison Plan Commission’s March 23 decision to grant the estimated $93 million project a conditional use permit for waterfront development. (Rendering courtesy of the city of Madison)

By Paul Snyder

Residents of Madison’s Mansion Hill Historic District keep battling the proposed Edgewater Hotel redevelopment as a Common Council vote on the project nears.

“I would be astonished if we don’t irritate a few people,” said Fred Mohs, a Mansion Hill district resident and member of the Capitol Neighborhoods Inc. executive council. “But if you’re as strong-willed of a committee as we are, what choice do we have?”

Mohs and five other residents are appealing the Madison Plan Commission’s March 23 decision to grant the estimated $93 million project a conditional use permit for waterfront development.

The argument, Mohs said, is that parts of the city’s zoning ordinance — including considerations of the development’s effect on surrounding property values, further development on nearby land and whether adequate access and parking would be provided — were not discussed by the Plan Commission before it granted the permit.

Hammes Co., Brookfield, proposes a major redevelopment of the Edgewater. The project would include renovation, addition of a nine-story tower, a public plaza area on Lake Mendota and underground parking for about 350 vehicles.

The project has pitted many city leaders who favor the economic benefits of a major construction project and new public space against preservationists and residents of the Mansion Hill Historic District who argue the proposed project is too big.

If approved as proposed, Mohs said, the project sets a dangerous precedent for Madison neighborhoods that want to protect their development-related ordinances. The permit, he said, deserves more discussion.

But Alderman Michael Schumacher, a Plan Commission member, said the commission is free to decide how much detail to cover during debate.

“To say that we didn’t deliberate is erroneous,” he said. “We’ve been looking at these issues for months, and they didn’t get the result they wanted.

“But not getting the outcome you want doesn’t mean you’re not being heard.”

Eric Sundquist, another Plan Commission member, said the city’s staff report on the project that commissioners used during the March 22 meeting outlined reasons for granting the permit. He said more discussion might have occurred if it had been earlier in the evening.

“It was 2 in the morning,” he said. “I don’t know that you really wanted to go down and talk about every provision in the ordinance at that time. Normally, we only have really long discussions if the permit is denied, so the developer understands why.”

The Common Council is likely to discuss the appeal at its April 20 meeting, Schumacher said, which is when the council is expected to make its final vote on the project. Fourteen votes would be needed to overturn the  Plan Commission’s approval.

Mohs said he understands city leaders and residents are tiring of the same protest from the same people, but he said the integrity of city ordinances is at stake.

“We’ve never seen a project like this,” Mohs said. “And if it’s approved, it will be a monument to a disorganized city process. So how do we make sure we never see this process happen again?”

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