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Tuesday, March 3, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 30.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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Madison neighborhood summit offers fixes for development process

More than 100 people -- mostly representatives from neighborhood associations -- gathered Saturday morning to give input on how the development process could be improved.

And while the meeting focused largely on how to improve the city planning process, underlying the meeting was a tension between the demands of developers and those of neighborhood interests.

The so-called "neighborhood summit" at Trinity Lutheran Church 1904 Winnebago St., was organized largely by Ald. Marsha Rummel, though at least 10 council members were present during some portion of the meeting.

At the behest of Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, the Economic Development Commission is currently reviewing the development process and looking for ways to improve it. Developers have been invited to give input to the commission -- this meeting was aimed at getting comments from residents and neighborhood groups.

During the three-hour meeting, people broke into groups and brainstormed about how the process could be improved. The groups came up with several common themes. They called for ways to involve neighborhoods and residents more in the planning process, including requiring they be notified when projects are being considered and expanding the area where such notification would be required.

Many wanted the supermajority required to overrule Landmarks Commission decisions kept in place. They also called for more transparency and a simplification of the planning process.

Tim Cooley, the city's economic development director, said during a break in the meeting that he didn't see a conflict in what the neighbors want versus what developers want. More transparency and predictability, he said, are things that everybody would like to see.

Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison Inc., said developers need to hear neighbors' concerns. Sentiments that Madison is unfriendly to business or that city government is catering to developers are "unfair, blanket statements," she said.

"When city staff gets beat up on and neighborhood associations get beat up on, it does something to people and their ability to work together," Schmitz said.

But not everybody was happy. Ken Golden, a former Common Council member, criticized how the conversation is being framed. He said the mayor's call to "fix" the development process, has angered and worried neighborhood groups. "This many people saw it as an attack on community participation," he said of the meeting during a break. "But we don't know what part they're attacking."

Just as important is leadership, Golden added.

"The mayor is basically ducking the issue, saying the process is broken," Golden said. "Well, maybe the mayor is broken."

But Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway said the meeting was not a reaction to pressure from the development sector to "fix" the process.

"This meeting was called because we thought neighborhood groups were being left out," she told the group. "I want your best ideas. I don't want just your reaction to the negative ideas."

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