Residents of the Marina and Union Transfer condominiums on East Wilson Street aren’t very happy about plans from McGrath Property Group to squeeze a 14-story apartment between the two downtown buildings.
Touted as luxury units designed for professionals, young families and empty-nesters, the McGrath project would replace the long-vacant Department of Corrections building at 149 E. Wilson St. Plans call for 127 market-rate apartments, from studios to three-bedrooms, with views of Lake Monona and downtown.
But while redevelopment of the parcel seems attractive on a variety of fronts, downtown Ald. Mike Verveer says the plan is already generating some serious blowback from owners of both condos, which were among the first wave of new downtown residential buildings. Both were developed by local architect Kenton Peters.
The project — which is proposed at the top height limit of the city Capitol view preservation ordinance — would require a re-zoning even under the new city zoning code which encourages more urban density and taller buildings.
“At first glance it’s seemingly a slam dunk because of what it’s replacing, but neighbors do have some significant concerns,” says Verveer.
As a result, a neighborhood steering committee is meeting Wednesday with the development team to discuss a variety of topics. Among them: potential reduced property values for condo owners because of the diminished views; rush hour traffic congestion on East Wilson Street and privacy issues with the direct sight lines between the apartments and the condos.
Much of the concern is coming from owners of the Marina, the silver-sided tower that was both hailed and derided when it first opened in 2005. But residents at Union Transfer, which was built in 1998, have also raised questions about how the new building would fit with existing residences.
Readers responding to our story on the McGrath project this weekend offered some pointed criticism as well.
"Most of the units in the proposed building will face a brick wall or stare into the windows of the condos rather than have great views of the lake and downtown. While it's nice to replace an abandoned building, this design doesn't represent enhanced quality of life in the downtown," wrote one.
Another commenter expressed similar concerns, saying the story "does not even hint at the malaise that the project has created among condo owners at Union Transfer and, especially, the Marina."
Another reader warned about a potential bursting housing bubble with all the new units proposed or under construction downtown.
"I find it hard to believe that so many people are suddenly going to decide to move to Madison to fill up these buildings. What if they build it and they DON'T come? Some of these tenants are going to come from housing that already exists in Madison. What will this do to the rentability of existing housing stock? Will landlords have to lower rents substantially to fill their existing properties?”
City planning staff has raised its own concerns about the project, Verveer says, mainly regarding the entrance to the parking garage on one-way East Wilson Street.
The project had an informational presentation at the city Urban Design Commission last week.