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Madison City Council denies zoning change for apartment project at Wonder Bar site
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CITY COUNCIL

Madison City Council denies zoning change for apartment project at Wonder Bar site

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With a $40 million project stalled over objections to demolishing the Prohibition-era Wonder Bar steakhouse, the Madison City Council on Tuesday rejected zoning changes for a proposed 18-story apartment building that would have taken its place.

Without discussion, the council unanimously agreed with the Plan Commission’s recommendation to deny zoning changes for McGrath Property Group’s proposal to demolish the Wonder Bar, 222 E. Olin Ave., and the Coliseum Bar & Banquet, 232 E. Olin Ave., and make way for a building with 290 apartments, 16,000 square feet of commercial space and five levels of parking.

On July 26, the Plan Commission unanimously rejected a demolition permit for the project, but did so in a way to allow McGrath to bring forward a revised proposal.

While commission members were supportive of more housing, they objected to the potential loss of the Wonder Bar, which has deep ties to Chicago mobsters as a Prohibition-era roadhouse. The structure — built in 1930 — isn’t currently a local landmark, but a group of citizens has submitted an application to make it one and provide more protection to the Wonder Bar.

The city’s Landmarks Commission could consider the application at the end of the month. Similar to the rejected demolition permit, the City Council denied the zoning changes in a way that wouldn’t preclude the Madison-based McGrath from bringing forward a revised proposal soon.

Both the Wonder Bar steakhouse and Coliseum Bar, which was built in 1995, closed amid the pandemic.

In other action, the City Council rejected 15-2 plans for a North Side development consisting of 97 single-family homes and several multifamily buildings over concerns about the future noises of F-35 fighter jets coming from the nearby Truax Field.

The project from Missouri-based Green Street Development Group — referred to as Raemisch Farm — would convert 63.6 acres of agricultural land between North Sherman and Packers avenues into dozens of single-family houses, several multifamily and mixed-used buildings, parkland and potential commercial spaces.

Planning Division director Heather Stouder said Green Street had committed to not constructing homes in the eastern portion of the property projected to experience an average daily noise of 65 decibels or more until at least 2027 when more information on the jets’ noise is known.

Council President Syed Abbas, 12th District, said he’s been appreciative of the developer working with community members to try and improve the project, but his opposition stemmed from an “environmental justice standpoint.” Alds. Gary Halverson and Barbara Harrington-McKinney supported the failed zoning and land division changes.

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