The first of two neighborhood meetings for development projects just east of Capitol Square revealed deep concerns from neighbors about parking, neighborhood design and the future of Frank Lloyd Wright's Lamp House.
Neighbors met Tuesday night to listen to a concept by the Alexander Company for a 10-story hotel at the corner of East Washington Avenue and Webster Street, at the site of the old Pahl Tire Company . Wednesday night will see another neighborhood meeting, this one to discuss a proposal by the Rouse Company to demolish four houses (constructed between 1872 and 1904) at 201 E. Mifflin St. and 17 to 27 N. Webster St. to build a six-story apartment building.
Although different projects by different developers, neighbors are worried about the cumulative effect they will have on the neighborhood.
Jason Tish, executive director of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, told the developer that the trust, as well as national historic preservation groups, are concerned about what the projects will do to the Lamp House, which was built in 1903, offset from North Butler, East Mifflin and North Webster streets and East Washington Avenue.
"Right now, you have a permeability of views [of the house]. These projects will wall off the views," Tish said after the meeting. He said the projects will have a silo effect around the house and that if built, "the Lamp house is not going to get a lot of sun."
Joe Alexander said his company originally wanted to do apartment housing, which it has lots of experience building. But he said that city officials encouraged them to find another use for the property and steered them toward a hotel project.
The company's current plans are for a 10-story hotel with 100 to 155 rooms, which would complement the proposed Judge Doyle Square hotel near Monona Terrace. It would be a limited-service hotel, with few, if any, meeting rooms. The company would rent parking spaces from the city at the nearby Capital Square North Lot. The hotel would use valet parking and need about 60 of the ramp's 600 spaces.
Some neighbors wondered why the company couldn't build its own parking underneath the hotel, but Alexander said the lot is too narrow to allow for ramping. Parking underneath would also prevent the company from being able to activate the building at the street level, with a public restaurant and pub.
Others wondered why the hotel and apartment houses couldn't work together to provide joint parking. Alexander said that's a possibility, but because hotels and housing both generally need to use spaces at night, "there's no trade-off there."
Some people said they disagreed with city planning staff and would prefer to see an apartment house. But Alexander said apartments need more parking than hotels do.
One person suggested the two projects have a joint steering committee to address neighborhood concerns. While Alexander said he's open to that, he added, "Yes, these projects are coming up at the same time. But they should rise or fall on their own merits."
It's not the first time developers have contemplated major projects for the block. In 2009, Apex Enterprises proposed a 12-story apartment/condo building around -- and over -- the Lamp House. But the project was abandoned in the wake of strong opposition.
Alexander wants to start building the project later this year with a projected opening date in late 2014. Although a flagship hotel hasn't been named, Alexander said his company is working with another developer on the project and that more details will be available in a few weeks.
The neighborhood meeting on the Rouse project will be Wednesday, May 15, at 7 p.m. at the U.S. Bank Building, 1 S. Pinckney St.