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'Aghast': $90 million development by Tenney Park face skepticism by officials, residents

Project rendering

Vermillion Development of Chicago is proposing a 445-unit housing development adjacent to Tenney Park and overlooking Lake Mendota.

Members of Madison’s Urban Design Commission and residents expressed major doubts Wednesday night about a $90 million, four-building apartment development that would vastly alter the area next to Tenney Park along Sherman Avenue and the Yahara River.

In August 2022, Madison selected three finalists in its Lake Monona Waterfront Design Challenge, aimed at creating a “visionary, inclusive and environmentally focused master plan” for 1.7 miles of shoreline and 17 acres of Madison’s foremost public lakefront. Planners are looking for concepts that can better connect neighborhoods and residents to the lake, improve water quality and preserve the lake's cultural history. Take a brief tour of this stretch of shoreline, which runs from Williamson Street to Olin Park.

Misgivings around the development put forth by Vermilion Development, of Chicago, included increased traffic, aesthetic changes to the neighborhood and environmental impacts.

The project would raze a two-story office building at 1617 Sherman Ave. to make way for 445 market-rate apartments that would offer many tenants a view of the Isthmus and Lake Mendota.

But commission member Christian Harper called the development’s design “so in your face” that it was a “non-starter” for approval.

“Who wouldn’t want to live in those Sherman Avenue facing apartments with beautiful sunsets across the lake?” Harper said. “But I just don’t think the city should be sacrificing what the potential is for this site for 50 or 60 people to have beautiful sunset lakeside views.”

Another commission member, Lois Braun-Oddo, noted the current site is an area where groundwater settles.

“You’re displacing a lot of capacity for groundwater in an area very susceptible for flooding,” Braun-Oddo said, adding she was “aghast” at the density of the project relative to the size of Sherman Avenue.

Wednesday night’s meeting was purely informational. Vermilion Development introduced its concept for the site earlier this month.

The development would consist of one six-story, U-shaped building facing the lake and another four-story rectangular building that would face the river and park, each with parking garages and rooftop decks.

Two slightly smaller three-story buildings would be located on the interior of the 8.6-acre site. The housing would include a mix of studios and one-, two-, and three-bedroom units.

Doug Hursh, design director for architecture firm Potter Lawson, which is working alongside Vermilion, said the development’s larger front-facing balconies and terraces would “imbue the street with ample activity and livelihood.” The architecture team also floated a potential cafe or wine bar at the corner of the development where Sherman Avenue would meet its entrance.

With Madison streets facing new and under-construction housing developments seemingly left and right, increased traffic was a repeated concern for residents who spoke against the development Wednesday night.

“To add a thousand more residents across the street from these single-family homes, I think, is absolutely doing a disservice to the city of Madison,” said Lisa Shapira, who lives near the proposed development.

“I don’t think this is a good fit for the neighborhood,” she said.

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