The Madison City Council backed Tuesday a large redevelopment project on Capitol Square that could bring up to 2,000 employees to the core of Downtown, while the body also loosened local marijuana laws to permit adults to possess and use cannabis on public and private property.
Despite concerns about the popular nearby restaurant Eno Vino partially losing its view of the state Capitol, the council unanimously approved zoning changes for Urban Land Interests' $125 million proposal to redevelop more than half of the city block bounded by East Washington Avenue and North Pinckney, East Mifflin and North Webster streets.
Ald. Mike Verveer, whose 4th District encompasses Capitol Square, said the new employment base could bolster struggling Downtown retail businesses, and the city has done "tremendous due diligence" in vetting the project.
"This absolutely is a monumental development for the Downtown, indeed for the entire city," he said.
Dubbed the "American Exchange" project for a landmark building that would be preserved as part of the redevelopment, ULI's proposed nine-story building would include 305,000 square feet of office space, 22,000 square feet of retail space, and 844 underground parking stalls.
The proposal — addressed at 1-19 N. Pinckney St., 22 N. Webster St. and 120 E. Washington Ave. — would sit on a 1.3-acre site and could provide office space for up to 2,000 employees.
But several speakers voiced opposition.
The owners, employees and supporters of Eno Vino — a bar and restaurant on the ninth and 10th floors of AC Hotel, which is across North Webster Street from the development site — argued the space has become a community asset since opening in 2017 by offering a publicly accessible viewing deck of the Capitol.
Jose Granados, co-owner of Eno Vino, said he's not opposed to developing the neighboring the site. But he said the design of ULI's building could be altered to preserve more of the restaurant's panoramic view.
"Once it's gone, it's going to be gone forever," Granados said of the view.
ULI and supporters of the project argue the redevelopment will transform an underutilized prime spot in Downtown and preserves the American Exchange building, 1 N. Pinckney St., which was built in 1871.
The project still needs final signoff by the city's Urban Design Commission.
Late Tuesday, the council passed a slate of changes overhauling local cannabis laws, which include:
- Permitting people 18 and older to consume and possess up to 28 grams — slightly less than an ounce — of cannabis on public and private property with the permission of the building owner, landlord or tenant.
- Allowing possession of paraphernalia for cannabis use.
- Lowering fines associated with violations of the ordinances, such as consumption on private property without the consent of the property owner.
- Banning smoking cannabis in places where cigarettes and other tobacco products and devices are prohibited.
The changes overhaul an ordinance Madison has had on the books since 1977, which had allowed residents to consume or possess cannabis in private residences.
While it remains against state and federal law to possess marijuana in Madison, the Madison Police Department — at the direction of the Dane County District Attorney's Office — won't refer charges for solely possessing less than 28 grams of cannabis, according to a city analysis of the changes.
The changes, though, don't prohibit police from seeking charges for possession with intent to deliver marijuana, even if the amount is less than 28 grams.
Verveer said overhauling how the city handles marijuana is long overdue, saying it is "preposterous and outrageous" the state Legislature hasn't moved to legalize recreational marijuana.
Under the revised city laws, no one can have cannabis within 1,000 feet of a school, and it's barred on school buses. The slate of changes also prohibit people from using cannabis "in a motor vehicle which is in operation."
In other business, the council passed on a 13-2 vote early Wednesday morning a resolution to give employees the option to voluntarily sign up for furloughs next year, which is at odds with the adopted 2021 budget that included mandatory furloughs as a cost-saving mechanism.
The resolution calls for the creation of a Voluntary Time Away (VTA) program that will give employees the chance to voluntarily agree to take unpaid time off. If enough savings aren't generated from the voluntary program, the resolution directs city staff to hold off implementing a mandatory furlough program until after March 31.
Last week, the council adopted a 2021 budget that included a mandatory furlough program Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway included in her executive budget in response to the city's pandemic-rattled financial situation. Under the budget, $1.2 million in savings is sought from unpaid days off for approximately 1,700 employees.
Earlier in the meeting, the council passed a mixed-used project at the prominent intersection of Monona and Cottage Grove roads after previously rejecting in October zoning changes over concerns the redevelopment didn't include enough commercial space.
Tuesday's approval paves the way for developer Joe Krupp's proposal to demolish the roughly 26,300-square-foot Lakeside Shopping Center and two other commercial spaces for a four-story, largely residential development with some commercial space.
As part of the approval, though, the council attached a condition that live-work units and commercial space identified in part of the project's design be used solely for commercial purposes.
The council also approved zoning changes that could allow a vacant skilled nursing facility on the East Side to be operated by the Salvation Army of Dane County as a "mission house," for families experiencing homelessness, which is defined as a facility that provides lodging but may also offer meals, worship services and other support services.
The former Karmenta Center at 4502 Milwaukee St. is eyed as a temporary shelter because federal funds to put up homeless families in hotel rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic could run out by the end of the year. The council will consider next month whether to amend the 2021 capital budget to provide money to lease and potentially purchase the 36,200-square-foot Karmenta Center.
Also at Tuesday's meeting, the council:
- Appointed Nasra Wehelie to serve as the 7th District council member until the April election after the post was vacated by former Ald. Donna Moreland.
- Approved a new lease agreement for the Madison Mallards to use the Warner Park Stadium, setting annual lease payments through 2028 for the amateur baseball team.
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