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Parking drives skepticism of Erdman proposal

A rendering shows Erdman Holdings Inc.’s proposed redevelopment at University Avenue and Whitney Way in Madison. Members of the city’s Urban Design Commission are to receive a presentation on the project Wednesday. (Rendering courtesy of the city of Madison)

A rendering shows Erdman Holdings Inc.’s proposed redevelopment at University Avenue and Whitney Way in Madison. Members of the city’s Urban Design Commission are to receive a presentation on the project Wednesday. (Renderings courtesy of the city of Madison)

By Paul Snyder

Parking problems are plaguing a proposed 17.5-acre redevelopment on Madison’s west side.

Madison-based Erdman Holdings Inc. wants to redevelop its land at University Avenue and Whitney Way into what eventually would be a mix of offices, a hotel and a restaurant. The long-range plan calls for 11 new buildings and three parking ramps.

But the first phase of what could be a five-phase development includes four new buildings, with most of the area behind them taken up by surface parking. As the company nails down future phases, it would replace the surface parking with new buildings and parking ramps.

“It dismays me to see so much space going into parking,” said Alderman Mark Clear, who represents the area. “This is an excellent opportunity for transit-oriented development and trying to reduce the number of passenger vehicles in the area.”

Jon Snowden, Erdman’s vice president, said the company has not identified a timeline, a cost estimate or tenants for the project. Erdman, he said, is waiting for the economy to recover and for the city and neighborhood groups to comment.

“You need a starting point to get things going,” he said. “And this plan is a concept that all the necessary players can look at and start talking about.”

That will start Wednesday when the Urban Design Commission listens to a project presentation.

Bruce Woods, a landscape architect and chairman of the commission, said the amount of parking in the first phase bothers him. Starting a project with too much surface parking could add significant landscaping costs that would be wasted if later replaced by new buildings.

“They might be able to get around landscaping codes if they can prove it’s not going to be more than a few months or a year or two,” Woods said. “But I don’t think they can guarantee it’ll happen like that, and I doubt the city would buy it given what we’ve seen in the past.”

City code for parking lots requires a tree island for every 12 parking spaces. A tree island costs a minimum of $1,000 because it needs two trees, plants and curb construction, Woods said.

Erdman’s plan does not specify the number of surface parking spaces in the first phase, but Woods said he looked at a drawing and immediately thought there were too many.

“It’s so wide open,” he said. “And when you approve these kinds of projects, you want to approve designs as if they will be around forever.”

Even if the surface parking is replaced by parking garages, Clear said, the 3,162 parking spaces projected by completion are too many. The site, he said, has bus access along University Avenue, room for a potential commuter rail stop intersecting Whitney Way, and bicycle and pedestrian routes nearby.

“I want to see more green space,” he said.

Snowden said input from city leaders and neighborhood residents will guide planning. He said it’s too early to be concerned about any project element because everything is subject to change.

“These are only preliminary thoughts,” he said. “This is not a static thing.”

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