The Madison City Council signed off Tuesday on a development team's proposal to build a large apartment tower and a new Whole Foods grocery store as part of a massive West Side development.
The council also rejected a bid to rezone several properties on the East Side to align them with a city plan, thereby avoiding a change that could have hampered the recently opened Amazon distribution center from expanding and had lobbyists arguing the rezoning would set a "dangerous precedent."
A development team is seeking to build a 15-story, 275-unit apartment building, a 54,300-square-foot Whole Foods and a 550-stall parking structure at the corner of University Avenue and North Segoe Road as part of the Madison Yards project, which envisions a mix of office space, apartments, retail and a hotel all surrounding a central plaza.
The apartment building and grocery store would be on one of six privately developed blocks within the development. The existing Whole Foods less than a mile away on University Avenue would move into the new space, while the apartment building would have 42 studio, 148 one-bedroom and 83 two-bedroom, market-rate units.
In 2018, the council approved a general plan to guide future development of the 14-acre Madison Yards area, which includes a parking lot used for a now-demolished state office building.
Since then, the project team — a joint venture between Gilbane Development Co. and Summit Smith Development — has been fleshing out specific proposals for what will go on each of the six blocks, which are to be divided by private streets.
West of the Hilldale Shopping Center, the Madison Yards project is bounded by University Avenue to the north, North Segoe Road to the east, Sheboygan Avenue to the south and a new Hill Farms State Office Building to the west, which would be integrated with the private portions of the development.
Other blocks within Madison Yards are slated for more residential uses, medical and office space, restaurants and entertainment venues, and a public plaza that could host a farmers' market year-round.
The council voted 13-6 to reject a proposal by Alds. Grant Foster and Marsha Rummel to rezone several commercial and vacant properties along Milwaukee Street and West Corporate Drive, including the Amazon property, after industry groups and the owner of the Amazon property decried the move.
Foster said the intent was to align the properties with recommendations in the 2018 Milwaukee Street Special Area Plan, which envisions more housing along the major public-transit route.
But changing the zoning of the Amazon building — located in the former Swiss Colony facility, 3650 Milwaukee St. — would have made the distribution center a legal "non-conforming" use, meaning Amazon could keep operating but would face barriers to any future bid to expand.
Foster, 15th District, said the city is struggling to create lower-cost housing and asserted the wishes of a single property owner should not trump the needs of the larger community.
But Ald. Lindsay Lemmer, 3rd District, said deliberately rezoning a property over the objection of its owner and making it non-conforming sends the wrong message to employers considering moving to Madison.
Alds. Tag Evers, Patrick Heck, Rebecca Kemble, Mike Verveer, Max Prestigiacomo and Foster voted in favor of rezoning the properties, while Rummel was absent for Tuesday's meeting.
Since the owner of the Amazon property, Leo Ritter & Co., of New York, filed a petition protesting the rezoning, 15 council members would have had to support rezoning for it to pass.
Center for Black Excellence and Culture
The council also late Tuesday awarded a $250,000 grant for planning and predevelopment work for the Center for Black Excellence and Culture proposed for the South Side.
The roughly $20 million, nonprofit center is envisioned to be a cultural and historical space, a hub for incubating Black-owned businesses and a way to encourage Black professionals to move to and stay in Madison, said the Rev. Alex Gee, one of the organizers of the center.
"It will be a place to develop leaders," Gee said. "We're working to build a strong infrastructure so even more Black businesses can thrive."
The grant is slated to come from the city's recently created Small Business Equity and Recovery program. The council included $2.5 million in the 2021 capital budget for the program, which is designed to help small businesses owned by people of color adapt to and survive the pandemic.
Kemble, 18th District, offered an amendment to increase city borrowing for the Small Business Equity and Recovery program by $250,000 — essentially offsetting the cost of the grant for the center. She said she wanted to assist the center but also wanted to ensure there would be money to support the immediate needs of existing businesses.
Her proposal to increase the program by $250,000 passed on a 17-2 vote. Alds. Barbara Harrington-McKinney and Samba Baldeh voted against the added borrowing.
In other action Tuesday, the council approved spending $1.2 million to purchase two commercial properties on the South Side — 814 and 826 North Avenue — to hold for future development and granted a liquor license for I/O Arcade Bar to relocate to the former Prism and Plan B nightclub building, 924 Williamson St.
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