Dexter's Pub patio

A rendering of a recently approved outdoor eating area for Dexter's Pub, 301 North St. 

An outdoor patio for a tavern can be a divisive idea. Will it be a relaxing neighborhood gathering spot or a nuisance to nearby residents?

That question was debated by some residents in Madison’s Eken Park and Emerson East neighborhoods when considering the addition of an outdoor beer garden for east side tavern Dexter’s Pub.

At the Madison Plan Commission's Monday meeting, some neighbors expressed excitement and support for the outdoor space, while others were opposed to the potential noise from the patio at the neighborhood hot spot famous for its Friday fish fry and craft beer selection.

Ultimately, the commission approved the project, noting they had continuing jurisdiction to address issues like noise, should they arise.

“I guess I would just encourage … the neighbors to voice those concerns, if they do come up,” Commissioner Melissa Berger said. “Hopefully it is a quiet, relaxing family establishment that doesn’t affect the neighborhood too negatively. But if it does, tell us about it and we can see if we can fix it later.”

Nicholas Zabel owns Dexter’s Pub at 301 North St., and his plans to expand the space would renovate the existing pub, add 1,500 square-feet and create an outdoor dining area, taking over most of the space used for sand volleyball and a small parking lot.

The outdoor area would seat 32, and that side of the restaurant would feature an overhead garage door and another partial garage door acting as a serving counter.

“It is about being family friendly,” Zabel said at a previous committee meeting. “Sit back and enjoy, play some games, have a beer.”

The project previously appeared before the Plan Commission in April, but Ald. Syed Abbas asked to refer the issue to a later meeting after hearing concerns from North Street neighbors.

At the subsequent neighborhood meeting, Zabel took the neighbors’ concerns about noise and parking seriously and adjusted his design accordingly, Abbas said in an email to neighbors.

According to that email, original designs called for three garage doors facing west towards North Street and the residential Emerson East neighborhood. Modified designs nixed the garage doors, replacing them with windows. The outdoor eating area would close at 10 p.m., with no amplified music outdoors. As one effort to address parking concerns, Zabel said he would speak with a nearby church to possibly help accommodate Friday night fish fry crowds.

Some neighbors were still not satisfied with these changes. Chad Carlson, a resident living nearby, took issue with the project and remaining garage doors.

“The crux of the matter is, we’re across the street from it, directly,” he said. “They want to put two roll-up garage doors on the side of the building that are going to open up and you’ll see them from our living room. It’s essentially turning a closed box bar into a tavern that we have to look into and deal with.”

But Catie Shannon, one of the co-chairs of the Eken Park Neighborhood Association, and several other neighbors spoke favorably of the project and of Dexter’s presence in the neighborhood.

EPNA wrote a letter in support of the project, saying Zabel “has spent a remarkable amount of time talking to neighbors in the local community, making sure to address as many concerns as possible.”

“There’s obviously some different perspectives coming from the neighborhood, but I think that there have been concessions made by the owner to try to mitigate the negative noise effects for the neighborhoods,” Berger said.

Ald. Marsha Rummel, also a Plan Commission member, was the only commissioner to vote against the project.

“I’m struggling with this ... when all the neighbors across the street don't really want it, it’s a problem in advance,” she said. “I think we need to understand the power of noise … I just don’t really believe that it won’t be heard.”

Also on Monday, developer Curt Brink’s office tower planned for the 900 block of East Washington Avenue received Plan Commission approvals. The project was previously held up over a glare study of the large glass building, and questions of whether to preserve a building slated for demolition at 924 E. Main St. The project now plans to deconstruct the building, save and store the facade, and reconstruct it on the site in the future.

“I want to thank you for doing something different ... everything starts looking the same after a while and this is different. Thank you,” Commissioner Mike Rewey said.

“I’d like to thank Mr. Brink, the applicant, for his patience on this project,” said Commissioner Brad Cantrell. “I think there's been several proposals on this block in the past, and I think you’ve hit a home run on this one.”

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