Edgewood Stadium new photo, baseball team

Members of the Edgewood High School baseball team gather for workouts on the school's athletic field on March 27.

The city of Madison is one step closer to ensuring Edgewood High School seeks city approval before installing lights or a sound system on its athletic field — improvements that the school has been trying to make for months despite opposition from neighbors concerned about noise from games.

At its meeting Monday, the city’s Plan Commission unanimously recommended that the Madison City Council approve a measure that would require Edgewood to apply with the city before making any improvements or modifications to its field if the school is successful in repealing its master plan.

Edgewood requested to repeal its master plan in July after a city zoning administrator determined that wording in the school’s master plan prohibits Edgewood from using the field for games and competitions.

This past spring, Edgewood was issued two notices of ordinance violations for games it held at the field, sparking a months-long conflict between Edgewood and the city over the field’s use, which culminated last month in a federal lawsuit. Edgewood, a private Catholic school, is alleging that the city of Madison religiously discriminated against it by treating it differently than other schools in the area.

At Monday’s meeting, Matt Lee, an attorney representing Edgewood, called the recommended proposal a “scheme” that “does nothing but perpetuate the unequal treatment of Edgewood in the application of the city’s zoning laws.”

“This ordinance is blatantly, nakedly designed and written to prevent Edgewood from — once its master plan goes away — being able to ... put lights on its field, put up modest additional seating around its field for spectators,” Lee said.

But Plan Commission member Eric Sundquist said the measure would close a “loophole” that allows schools zoned like Edgewood to make major modifications to outdoor spaces without any city approval, something Sundquist said these schools shouldn’t be allowed to do.

Edgewood High School, UW-Madison, Madison Area Technical College and Madison’s public high schools are zoned as Campus Institutional Districts, or CI, meaning they are all governed by the same zoning ordinances. Under current city ordinances, these CI districts can play games on their fields and make improvements or modifications to open spaces, such as the athletic field, without getting additional approval from the city.

Edgewood’s master plan effectively imposes additional restrictions on the school. If the plan is repealed, Edgewood would revert back to being under only the CI zoning rules.

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Under the ordinance recommended Monday by the Plan Commission, all of the CI-zoned schools would be required to apply for a conditional use permit when making any modifications or improvements to existing outdoor facilities. Before, this process was only required for changes to buildings of more than 4,000 square feet, not outdoor spaces.

The ordinance does not require a conditional use process for minor changes, such as repairing or replacing things. Sundquist said a previous version of the proposal made it seem like “virtually anything” would be considered a conditional use, and the new draft fixes that.

Assistant city attorney John Strange said the measure does not prohibit Edgewood from playing daytime games on its field, but to get lights for nighttime games the school would need to get a conditional use permit.

“The (daytime) games would be allowed to be played there if the master plan goes away,” Strange said.

Of about 10 people who spoke on the ordinance change, only the three attorneys representing Edgewood were opposed to the measure, while the rest supported the conditional use process. More than 30 people registered in support but did not speak.

“We are not opposed to the kids playing football,” said Barbara Erlenborn, who lives across the street from the field. “We need to get out of the lawsuits, get out of the suing. Let’s get back to the compromise table.”

Another option open to Edgewood is applying to amend its master plan to include games and competitions as an accepted use of the field, instead of repealing the plan in its entirety. Plan Commission members encouraged Edgewood to pursue that route.

The Madison City Council will consider the ordinance changes to CI districts at its Oct. 1 meeting. The master plan repeal will be taken up by the Plan Commission on Oct. 14.

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Emily Hamer is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She joined the paper in April 2019 and was formerly an investigative reporting intern at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.