A $16 million Madison commitment to the Edgewater Hotel project should buy free, continuous access to the property’s lakefront terrace, the leaders of a neighborhood group argue.
But those project neighbors say they suspect they won’t get that unhindered access if the Common Council on Tuesday approves the latest version of a hotel operating agreement, which includes an outline for public access.
Suspicion is all the group has because members haven’t had enough time to review the details of the deal, said Ledell Zellers, a board member for Capitol Neighborhoods Inc.
“It has been the same old story,” she said. “The new draft was not available for the neighborhood meeting last Wednesday. This lack of availability of documents seems to be a continuing trend.”
Public access to the Edgewater lakefront is a contentious issue because Madison is subsidizing $16 million of the $98 million project, despite strong opposition from Capitol Neighborhoods. The city’s Plan Commission debated the agreement in December but shelved it after determining the public did not have enough time to review it. The same complaint arose again this week after the latest draft of the agreement did not become available online until Friday.
Madison Alderman Michael Verveer, whose district includes much of the neighborhood but not the Edgewater, asked for another delay so people could have more time to read and discuss the agreement.
Verveer insisted the project remains stalled because of a lawsuit Capitol Neighborhoods filed against the city, alleging illegal processes to approve the Edgewater. Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas last month dismissed the lawsuit, but Verveer said the project is hamstrung by the potential for an appeal.
“There are no ulterior motives to delaying this project,” he said. “The project is not going to start in a few weeks, in any event.”
But Amy Supple, a development director for project developer Hammes Co., Brookfield, said the lawsuit is a non-issue, and the project needs to get under way.
“At the moment, there’s nothing stopping this project from going forward, and we’re doing that,” she said. “We can check these things off, including this agreement.”
Verveer failed to persuade the Plan Commission on Monday to delay the vote that sent the agreement to the Common Council. He succeeded in adding an amendment urging the developer, city and neighborhood association to continue negotiating until the Common Council’s next meeting.
The hotel’s neighbors say the current agreement, if approved, leaves all the power in the hands of the developer to determine such guidelines as the days the hotel will be open to the public, noise level, light level and temporary structures, such as tents, that might obstruct the lake view.
Zellers cited oft-repeated wording in the document that leaves many issues up to the “manager and its sole discretion.”
“So many key aspects are left up to management,” she said. “The city and the public are left out in the cold with no recourse.”
Madison’s assistant city attorney, Anne Zellhoefer, said there’s always recourse.
“There’s the opportunity for any citizen,” she said, “if he believes the peace is being disturbed, to call the police.”
Also, Supple added, the hotel could not allow events or disruptions that would irritate neighbors without also having the same effect on hotel guests.
“The notion that we’re going to create a lot of noise late in the evening on the terrace isn’t true,” she said. “It wouldn’t work for us, as it wouldn’t work for the neighborhood.”
Supple said concerns about public access are unfounded. The agreement would only let management close the hotel’s terrace 15 days a year for private events, Supple said, and there would be some degree of public access every day.
“It is our intention the terrace is usable 365 days a year,” she said.
Zellers, though, said she has not been given enough time to reach the same conclusion. She said she worries there are loopholes.
“From a cursory review of the agreement, it appears the public is not being adequately protected,” she said. “Given restraints in the use agreement, the public is not getting $16 million in value they’ve been guaranteed.”