Madison’s Finance Committee on Monday backed a proposal to buy a vacant big-box store near East Towne Mall and convert it into a permanent men’s homeless shelter — despite threats from a developer to drop a nearby luxury housing project if the shelter plan moves forward.
The committee voted 4-0, with two abstentions, to buy the 2.67-acre property at 2002 Zeier Road for $2.6 million and accept $3 million from the county for the shelter project. The city also plans to contribute $3 million, but the proposal still needs approval from the City Council.
The 31,500-square-foot building on the property formerly held Savers and Gander Mountain stores.
Madison has been searching for a site for a permanent shelter for months. The city thought it found one in October — a former child care center at 4111 East Towne Blvd. on the city’s Far East Side. But the property’s seller backed out of the deal only days after it was announced.
The Zeier Road proposal has faced opposition from nearby residents and business owners, who said at Monday’s meeting that the shelter would likely shutter their businesses. One developer threatened to drop a proposed $100 million, 400-unit luxury housing project nearby if the shelter becomes a reality.
The area’s representative on the City Council, Ald. Samba Baldeh, 17th District, said the shelter should be somewhere other than the middle of a business district.
City real estate development specialist Dan Rolfs said 16 sites were considered, but all except the Zeier Road property were eliminated for various reasons.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway urged the committee to support the shelter proposals. She said there’s “no plan B.”
“Obviously no site is perfect. And I think possibly equally obviously, no neighbors are ever going to be excited about a project like this,” Rhodes-Conway said. “Nonetheless, this is a project that is critical for our community.”
City Council President Sheri Carter and Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, 1st District, abstained because they wanted more information on the project.
“It’s just simply not an option to go backwards in our service to homeless individuals in our community,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We have to push forward.”
Special report — Homelessness in Wisconsin: State at the crossroads
Special report | Homelessness in Wisconsin: State at the crossroads
For a while, state, county and local leaders seemed to finally be on the same page when it came to combating homelessness. But with winter coming, major legislation remains stalled. And the early promise of bipartisan cooperation on the issue is not guaranteed.
The state is at a crossroads on the issue of homelessness, as legislators, advocates and service providers wonder whether flashes of bipartisanship and progress can be sustained.
Many feel the harsh realities coming from a low-income housing shortage, low vacancy rates, and state tenant-landlord laws that usurp local control and create barriers for those with spotty credit or rental histories, evictions or convictions.
With prodding from the federal government, Wisconsin's approach to homelessness is getting more focused, coordinated and efficient.
In mid-April this year, there were four people at the site. By mid-May there were 27. And by mid-July about 60. The tent city then spread east and west with about 75 individuals in 90 tents through the early fall.
Efforts to address homelessness continue to evolve. Below is a list of responses in an effort to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurri…