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Parking rift puts Madison project on hold

By Paul Snyder

A parking dispute between a Madison developer and a church congregation has helped put plans for a $4.2 million office project on hold.

Apex Enterprises Inc., Madison, has requested city staff members place its rezoning request for the project on file, which effectively freezes the proposal.

Steve Yoder, Apex president, said the company wants to revisit the project when the economy recovers and there are more potential tenants. Apex wants the property around a 12,000-square-foot office building in the 6000 block of University Avenue in Madison to be rezoned from limited commercial to planned-unit development. The company then wants to replace the building with a 40,000-square-foot structure.

But the parking dispute with St. Dunstans Episcopal Church likely still will need to be resolved if the project restarts.

“The issues will still be there,” said the Rev. Bob Lambert, interim rector at St. Dunstan’s. “The difference is the congregation will be in more of a position to make a decision one way or another.”

Apex and St. Dunstan’s share parking between the office building and the church. Office building tenants have 44 spaces and St. Dunstan’s has 50, but Apex and the church have an agreement that lets users of either park in the other building’s open spaces.

Lambert called it a “gentlemen’s agreement,” and said church leaders bristled last year when Apex sought permanent use of 15 church spaces to accommodate the proposed new building’s tenants.

“Once it started becoming a legal issue, it changed,” Lambert said. “I had just arrived as interim rector, and the church was just not at a point of making any kinds of property decisions.”

Shared parking has not been a problem since Apex bought the office site in 2008, Yoder said. The church, he said, seldom fills all of its spaces, and some of Apex’s spaces are open if the church needs overflow parking on Sundays.

Lambert said that for the past decade, St. Dunstan’s has not had a congregation large enough to fill its spaces and require some of Apex’s. Still, Lambert said, the church is hesitant to relinquish 15 spaces because of possible weekday conflicts.

“If I’m starting a mass at 9 a.m. and the lot is full before their clients come in to work,” he said, “then they see they have no parking and come and get angry at us.”

Lambert said St. Dunstan’s holds about four funerals each year and has a lot of traffic on those occasions.

He said a church committee is working on a property plan that will include recommendations for a new parish hall and parking and driving patterns around St. Dunstan’s 7.5-acre property. Once that plan is complete, he said, the church may be better able to discuss a parking agreement with Apex.

The property plan is expected to be done in a year, Lambert said, but his time as rector likely will end this summer. A new rector and changing congregation, he said, could have different ideas for shared parking.

Yoder said he knows change is imminent at St. Dunstan’s, and he said Apex does not want to force the parking issues.

But he also said the new building Apex wants to build would dominate most of the site, leaving parking space for 93 vehicles, and if the company scales down the building size, it might not be able to make enough money from tenants to justify construction costs.

“Maybe if office rents go up in the next few years, it would change things,” he said. “But we need a reasonable option for parking.”

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