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Sunday, October 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 50.0° F  Fair
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Union Corners redevelopment plan met with mix of concern and enthusiasm
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Gorman is proposing to create a mixed-use development that would be constructed in four phases
Credit:Bennet Goldstein

It sounds like UW Health deserves some credit for getting things rolling again on the redevelopment of Union Corners.

"How we got to Union Corners was UW Health came to us and said, 'We need to replace our East Towne Clinic,'" Joe Schwenker, a project consultant for Gorman & Co., said at a neighborhood meeting Thursday night. "The doctors literally have to hold meetings in closets. They're out of space."

The public meeting at Bashford United Methodist Church was the first since Gorman signed a letter of intent with the city in June to develop the 11.4 acre city-owned site.

Schwenker gave what he called "a 30,000 foot flyover view" of Gorman's plans to more than 60 people.

The large lot at the corner of East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street has sat empty since 2007 when the original development plans for the site stalled in the housing crash. The city purchased the land in 2010.

Gorman is proposing to create a mixed-use development that would be constructed in four phases. The first phase includes construction of the UW Health clinic. Residential units would follow. Other possibilities include a public library, grocery store, restaurant and office spaces.

Neighborhood residents at the meeting were particularly adamant that the proposed two-story UW clinic be redesigned as a three-story building. Former Madison Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway argued that a two-story structure would need to be expanded in the future. She also said that, as the "anchor building" at the site, the two-story structure would dictate the height of other buildings.

"When you look at little bit further down toward the Capitol, what we're able to build there, it's really disappointing to see a proposal with two stories here," she said. "I know that UW has what they want. I know that they are the main tenant and we need to pay a lot attention to them. But I would really encourage you to push them to think about different models."

Neighbors also said the proposal did not include enough public parking space. They questioned why large portions of proposed surface and underground parking lots would be for UW clinic use only.

"UW Health ... want[s] to control that," Schwenker said. "They've got their patients, ... their doctors, their nurses using the parking."

Gorman's plans for housing would include some units aimed at low-income tenants. Schwenker said designers are still conceptualizing the housing options, including townhouses, group homes and apartment buildings, and are open to suggestions.

Architect Lou Host-Jablonski, chair of the Schenck-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara (SASY) neighborhood executive committee, proposed developers add a residential space based on the concept of cohousing. The housing arrangement relies on residents sharing responsibilities -- including land maintenance, accounting and dining. SASY neighborhood representative John Steines spoke in favor of including LGBT-friendly senior housing as well.

Atwood resident Tim Wong asked where future residents and non-UW Health users would be able to park and whether they would have to pay for it. Schwenker said that parking would be available to residential tenants and that there were no plans to charge for it.

Residents also voiced concern over the quality of the proposed restaurant and affordability of the grocery store. The Willy Street Co-op is currently the lead contender for the site.

Schwenker said once Gorman signs a purchase and sale agreement with the city and receives a tax increment financing loan, it will propose general development and specific improvement plans for each phase of the project. During each phase, Schwenker said, city officials will host meetings where residents can comment.

Johnson Street resident Annie Courtney said she is thrilled to see property development in the area, whatever form it takes.

"I don't expect this to be perfect. I don't expect that I'll like everything, but I really look forward to the idea of having any kind of grocery store -- even if I didn't use it all the time -- that I could get a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, and any kind of restaurant that wasn't McDonalds."

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