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Tuesday, September 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 46.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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Proposed Webster Street apartment project receives mixed reviews at neighborhood meeting
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All four houses were built between 1872 and 1904, but do not hold any landmark status.
Credit:Kristian Knutsen

Developers revealed the first drafts of a proposal Wednesday that would tear down four houses on North Webster Street for the construction of a five-floor apartment building.

Some of the 25 people who attended the neighborhood meeting were critical of the project, due its close proximity to the Robert M. Lamp House, a National Register of Historic Places landmark designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Others, meanwhile, considered the proposal an opportunity to increase tourism to the house.

The proposal, by developer Rouse Management and Knothe & Bruce Architects, features 59 apartments with underground parking for 47 cars and bike spaces, said architect Randy Bruce. It calls for the demolition of 201 E. Mifflin Street and 17-27 N. Webster Street.

Rouse said the targeted tenants for the apartments are "young professionals."

All four houses were built between 1872 and 1904, but do not hold any landmark status. The Lamp House, at 22 N. Butler Street and built in 1903, sits in the center of the square block, right behind the four houses in question.

The project is aimed for the same block in which the Alexander Company is proposing to construct a 10-story hotel where Pahl Tire Company currently resides. Neighbors at a meeting Tuesday night raised concerns about that project's effect on parking, traffic and the Lamp House.

Ald. Ledell Zellers (District 2) is seeking volunteers for a neighborhood steering committee to further discuss the particulars of the Rouse project with the developers. Due to its proximity to a landmark, its demolition plans, size and need for rezoning, the project would have to go through four city panels, says Zellers: the Landmarks Commission, Urban Design Commission, Plan Commission and the Common Council.

Because of its placement on the block, the Lamp House is not easily visible from the sidewalk. At the meeting, Bruce said it is already difficult to see from North Webster and its better view, from East Mifflin Street, would be preserved.

Several audience members discussed how such a development would affect the rest of the square block, which contains other houses along East Mifflin and North Butler streets. Gene Devitt, chair of the Mansion Hill Neighborhood Association, said the block had the potential of becoming an historic district in the 1970s. If the four houses on North Webster are taken down, he said, it will set up the other houses for demolition as well.

Jason Tish, executive director for the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, also expressed concern about the large apartment and hotel project "enshrouding" the view of the Lamp House.

Gary Tipler, a historic preservation consultant, was more optimistic. He said additional redevelopment in the area could help turn the Lamp House into a hotter tourist destination.

"A comprehensive plan for the block wouldn't be a bad idea," he said. "There are dozens of Frank Lloyd Wright homes that are now museums across the United States and I think this building has every bit of potential for being a destination for tourism."

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