The Madison Plan Commission on Monday approved a five-story apartment building on the 600 block of West Wilson Street, completing what Ald. Mike Verveer called “the final piece" of redevelopment in the area.
“This is really is the final piece of the puzzle … converting this former, large construction yard and warehouse operation into largely residential living,” said Verveer, whose downtown Madison district includes that part of the Bassett neighborhood.
Wilson 600 LLC owns the property and Walter Wayne Development is managing the project spanning 616 to 632 W. Wilson St.
The 58 market-rate apartments will include studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. Plans call for 57 enclosed parking spaces, some of which will be underground.
The project will require the demolitoin of five existing houses currently utilized as apartments. All five buildings were built between 1884 to 1904.
The target market for the apartments is professionals working in the area, “not unlike the complexes adjacent to us and across the street,” Dave Diamond, president of Walter Wayne Development, said. 640 West Apartments, Nine Line and Quarter Row apartments are all near the proposed development.
Verveer said he had “not heard any negative concerns from neighborhood stakeholders” about the project.
But in February, the Landmarks Commission said the buildings to be demolished had historic value and said it would be an “extensive loss to vernacular housing.” The city’s file on the property at 616 W. Wilson indicated that the house was designed by architectural firm Claude and Starck, but city staff couldn’t find any additional supporting materials that this was the case.
“If this was a confirmed Claude and Starck house, I wouldn't be able to stand here before you with such enthusiasm, encouraging you to find that the standards are all met,” Verveer said.
Verveer also acknowledged that the houses are a “remaining collection of original workforce housing for the railroad workers and others that populated the city at the city’s founding,” but he noted they were in “rough shape” from decades as rental housing. The developer has offered the houses for free and will provide some moving funds to anyone who can relocate them.
“Unfortunately we’re removing a kind of charming, small single family house at 616 W. Wilson but I think that ... Madison is a growing city, we need dwelling units downtown, and I think that this is exactly where we would be providing them,” said commissioner Brad Cantrell.
Verveer also said the current property owner had agreed to do whatever they could to relocate the current tenants to other housing of comparable affordability. Ald. Marsha Rummel voiced concern that tearing down old housing and not including affordable units in a new development results in a net loss in affordability.
“I would just send a message out to people that they should look at tax credits because they’re not all onerous … Just kind of a plea in general, as we continue to densify and they’re all market-rate apartments, we’re losing something,” she said.
Chair Ken Opin noted that the Plan Commission simply follows city ordinances, so “if there’s a desire to have more affordable housing,” the City Council needs to “develop ordinances that would allow us to encourage that.”
The project passed unanimously. The city staff report says construction is slated to begin this summer and be completed by summer 2020.