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James Madison Park

A master plan approved by the Madison Parks Commission for James Madison Park includes changes to parking to ease concerns that a new parking lot could affect views. 

The Madison Park Commission approved a master plan Wednesday for a popular Downtown park that included a reworked parking arrangement to appeal to some area residents who have opposed the addition of a parking lot.

The plan lays out guidelines for any future redevelopment of James Madison Park, such as replacing the existing shelter and moving sport courts, within the 12.6-acre space on the shore of Lake Mendota.

It also included changes to parking to lessen the prominence of parking lots.

But before any future changes to the park involving parking go forward, the commission approved an amendment to the master plan requiring city staff to re-examine parking needs and look to minimize space devoted to off-street parking if it fits the needs of the time.

Under the master plan, the park would have 13 off-street spaces behind the Gates of Heaven synagogue at the park’s west end and nine spots along East Gorham Street between North Blair Street and North Franklin Street. They replace the current 26 spaces behind the synagogue.

Also, an existing parking lot at the park’s north end at North Blount Street would increase by four spots to 12.

The total number of parking spaces would remain the same under the plan.

Initially, a draft plan called for a 26-stall parking lot adjacent to East Gorham street to replace the one behind the synagogue.

In comments at previous public meetings, emails and at Wednesday’s meeting, residents criticized creating a new parking lot, saying it negatively affected views of Lake Mendota from East Gorham Street, took up too much green space and required the removal of mature trees.

While the master plan would decrease green space in the park and increase the parking area, it would decrease water runoff by adding stormwater retention features, city staff said.

Others said street parking is plentiful in the area or that the city shouldn’t be looking at making changes to an already functional, heavily used park.

Staff said adding a parking lot along East Gorham Street gives users better access to the park’s planned amenities, including a new playground, shelter and relocated sports courts.

Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp said the master plan is just a guide for any potential future changes made to the park.

“The plan does strive to balance a variety of factors,” he said. “A master plan is also something that should be viewed, in my estimation, as a document that guides the future development. It is not necessarily prescriptive.”

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Chris Aadland is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.