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East Madison affordable apartments waiting on funding, but sails through land use approvals

East Madison affordable apartments waiting on funding, but sails through land use approvals

The Grove Apartments

A rendering of the proposed The Grove Apartments, slated for 208 Cottage Grove Road. 

The Grove Apartments might have lost out on coveted affordable housing tax credits, but the development proposal sailed through a crucial step in the city approval process Monday.

On Monday night, the Madison Plan Commission granted land use approvals for the project slated for 208 Cottage Grove Road, the site of Pinney Library.

The 112-unit, L-shaped project would provide 95 units of affordable housing. The 24,000 square-foot Pinney Library building would be demolished, making way for a four-story, 77-unit apartment building on the northern portion of the site. A second building along Cottage Grove Road would add 5,125 square-feet of commercial space and 35 apartments, starting at four stories and stepping down to three stories as the development approaches single-family homes.

The majority of the units will be rented at 30, 50 and 60 percent of county median income. The lowest-income apartments would be supportive service units, meaning tenants would be able to access services from Madison-area Urban Ministry, Porchlight and the Community Action Coalition. MSP Real Estate, Inc., is the developer of the project.

The city has committed up to $3 million to the approximately $20 million project. MSP asked for $13.4 million in credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. WHEDA announced its funding decisions last week, and The Grove was the only project out of six Madison applicants not to receive credits.

Mark Hammond, director of development and general counsel for MSP, said the firm would apply for credits in the next round. Ald. David Ahrens, whose district includes the development, said in an email the project “missed WHEDA’s cut-off by a fraction of a point.”

Ahrens also pointed out a “silver lining” in the delay: Pinney Library, instead of having to vacate its current location and move materials into storage while waiting for the completion of the coming Royster Commons development at 516 Cottage Grove Road, will be able move directly into its new home.  

At the Plan Commission, Ahrens said at a well-attended neighborhood meeting, “people were generally supportive" of The Grove, with some concerns about height and density of the project. He pointed out that the buildings on nearby Monona Drive are four and five stories.

“So though it’s an outlier compared to the buildings right behind it, it’s very consistent with the buildings right across the street from it,” he said.

The project was originally proposed with a maximum height of five stories. At the Plan Commission, Hammond said that MSP originally needed that density to make the project work, but after WHEDA changed its credit allocation method, it was possible to redesign the southern building as a four-story building.

Despite the downsize, neighborhood residents submitted comments to the Plan Commission expressing opposition to the project, calling it “out of proportion,” “towering over the rest of the neighborhood,” and stating fears the development was “going to kill our property values and more congestion with traffic to our once decent neighborhood.”

The two surrounding neighborhoods are Eastmorland and Lake Edge. The Eastmorland Community Association wrote in opposition to the project, as “the mass and density of the plan before you is incompatible with the established area of single family homes it will rise above.”

There have also been complaints about the pace of the approval process. Last year, some residents were upset that although city officials knew about The Grove proposal in mid-June, they didn’t disclose that at the July planning meeting. Ahrens defended that decision by explaining “developers file plans and meet with planners all the time,” but plans don’t always become a reality. 

On Monday, City Planner Tim Parks acknowledged neighborhood comments, but said that while the project buildings “are significantly different than what has historically occupied the property,” he pointed to the “shifting nature of the site, the anticipated higher-density development,” called for in the Comprehensive Plan and Cottage Grove Activity Centers Plan.

The Plan Commission agreed that the proposal fulfilled city plans, expressed appreciation for the project and voted to approve it. 

“This is doing exactly what the plan asked for when it was created,” said Commissioner Melissa Berger.

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