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Madison Yards rendering

The “Madison Yards” project aims to create five blocks of mixed-use buildings on the 14-acre property at 4802 Sheboygan Ave.

The massive west side Madison Yards project has been in the works for years and is on its way to the city’s Plan Commission Monday night seeking land use approvals. Just a few months ago, city staff couldn't recommend approving the project, but that changed as the developer refined plans.

SG Hill Farms, LLC, is the developer for the project on 14 acres of state-owned property at 4802 Sheboygan Ave., next to the new 600,000 square-foot Department of Transportation building.

The Madison Yards project seeks to create five blocks of mixed-use buildings. The property, including the state building, is bordered by University Avenue, Sheboygan Avenue, North Segoe Road and an American Red Cross office. It will be intersected by four roads to create five blocks.

The state Department of Administration chose developer Smith Gilbane through a state request-for-proposal process in 2015.

Middleton-based T. Wall Enterprises was also a finalist for the project. That raised some concerns at the time, as Terrence Wall was a Scott Walker donor and Walker’s administration was responsible for choosing the developer. But Wall’s proposal ultimately lost to a team including Milwaukee-based Summit Smith Development and Gilbane Development Co., based in Providence, Rhode Island.

On Monday, the Plan Commission will consider rezoning the property from Suburban Employment to Planned Development, and also consider approving the general development plan and preliminary plat for the property. A GDP specifies building height, mass, setbacks and stepbacks. In the future, specific implementations plans must be approved for each phase of the project.

Plans show a central green space surrounded by mixed-use buildings, providing a maximum possible total of 500,000 square feet of office space, 250,000 square feet of retail space, 600 residential units and 400 hotel rooms. Those are the maximums for each category, and actual construction could range from 300,000 to about 1.5 million square feet, the city report says. 

Proposed maximum heights range from eight to 14 stories and, according to the design application, the buildings “may include hotel, retail, restaurant, office, residential, and structured parking.”

In February, city staff did not recommend approving the GDP in a preliminary report, and the city’s Urban Design Commission referred the plans. Then “the project team met extensively with city staff to discuss the many issues raised,” a city staff report said, and the developer re-submitted plans in March.

The staff report commends the updated plans for providing “considerably more detail on how the various land uses proposed will be distributed across the district, how the proposed buildings will be sited and massed, and how open space will be provided for future residential use.”

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The alder for the area, Arvina Martin, seems to agree that the plans have improved.

“Many of the concerns brought up by city staff, neighbors and members of the Urban Design Committee were addressed in the updated proposal for the General Development,” she wrote on her blog.

The developer’s original traffic management plans were also flagged by the Traffic Engineering Division. David Dryer, the city traffic engineer and parking manager, wrote three memos highlighting problems with the plans, including a need for traffic calming devices and 12-foot sidewalks on all internal streets, and recommended rejecting the developer’s Transportation Demand Management Plan. The developer wrote a new plan, which Traffic Engineering called “a significant improvement.”

Michael Lawton, chair of the planning committee for the University Hill Farms Neighborhood Association, said the planning committee was generally supportive of the plans, although they would like approved plans to address some concerns about traffic and parking, sustainability and ensuring high quality design.

The project is slated to appear before the City Council on May 1. If approved, construction would start in October 2018, the city report says, with the entire project slated to be completed by 2022.