After lengthy testimony, the Madison Plan Commission late Monday advanced a $125 million redevelopment on Capitol Square despite concerns by a popular restaurant across the street that the project will block its sweeping upper-floor views of the state Capitol.
The commission, on a unanimous vote, approved Urban Land Interests’ nine-story redevelopment on the 10 block of North Pinckney Street that combines preservation, demolition and new construction on Capitol Square.
“I think the project is exactly what the Downtown Plan envisioned,” commission member Bradley Cantrell said. “This is a project of high standards and will fit into the area.”
Downtown Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, also backed the project. “This is many, many years in the making,” he said. “This is a truly monumental development before you tonight. This project will provide a very much needed shot in the arm to Downtown.”
ULI’s “American Exchange” project, named after a landmark building that would be preserved in the redevelopment, retains the historic scale of facades facing the Square and would provide 22,000 square feet of first-floor retail space and a design that steps back to a striking glass and stone tower reaching the Capitol height limit with 300,000-plus square feet of office space. It would have 840 underground parking spaces.
The owners of Eno Vino wine bar and bistro, located on the top two floors of the 10-story AC Hotel Madison Downtown, 1 N. Webster St., said they do not oppose a project but asked the commission to delay approval so design changes came be made to preserve more of its view. The AC Hotel offered an architect’s alternatives that would preserve much more of Eno Vino’s panorama.
“It doesn’t have to block all the view,” Eno Vino owner Jose Granados said.
Many speakers voiced support for preserving more of the establishment’s views.
ULI officials said alterations have been made to address Eno Vino’s concerns, but that further change is impractical.
Others voiced support for the project. “It will be a dramatic improvement to one of the most important gateways to Capitol Square,” said Eli Judge, president of Capitol Neighborhoods Inc. Downtown Madison Inc. president Jason Ilstrup added that the project will help ensure Downtown is the “economic engine” of the region if not the state.
Verveer voiced empathy for Eno Vino and the AC Hotel, but said, “The loss of views goes with the territory Downtown.”
Planning Division director Heather Stouder said the proposal’s height and building mass were anticipated in the Downtown Plan.
Ald. and commission member Marsha Rummel, 6th District, asked ULI if it had too much parking given how the COVID-19 pandemic may impact future work patterns, but ULI principal Brad Binkowski said he believes employees will desire the connection, urbanity and vitality of Downtown and that the parking is needed.
The project still needs final approvals from the Urban Design Commission and City Council.
The commission still had decisions to make on other big projects that would bring housing, retail space and parking to the central city, including LZ Ventures’ controversial housing redevelopment on the 400 block of East Washington Avenue and a property owner’s bid to add housing above and behind a popular brewpub and restaurant on Regent Street near the UW-Madison campus.
Earlier in the evening, the commission approved zoning updates to allow the vacant, 36,192-square-foot former Karmenta Center skilled nursing facility at 4502 Milwaukee St. on the East Side to be used for a “mission house” provided the operator receives funding from the city and enters into a service contract with the city.
The Salvation Army of Dane County is exploring a lease of the Karmenta Center as mission house for families experiencing homelessness. A mission house is defined as a facility operated by a religious institution or nonprofit organization that provides lodging but may also offer meals, worship services and other support services.
In late October, the City Council approved $460,000 for the Salvation Army to shelter homeless families tied to the Karmenta site. The ordinance changes approved Monday would allow ‘mission house’ in a number of zoning districts as a permitted/conditional use if it is supported by the city, and update the zoning of the Karmenta Center property to Commercial Corridor Transitional District, which is consistent with the recommendations in the comprehensive plan.
Several residents voiced opposition to the moves, saying their neighborhood is experiencing crime and quality of life issues. They said a homeless shelter would be a bad fit for the area, especially because of its proximity to a preschool, and complained of a lack of communication and transparency.
Commission members assured concerns would be addressed as the City Council makes final decisions and that a neighborhood meeting would be scheduled before the Salvation Army or other entity moved forward.
Also, the commission created electric vehicle charging station as a new permitted use in the zoning code, and a requirement increasing over time for certain commercial and residential parking facilities that are built or reconstructed to include electric vehicle ready or installed spaces.