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Thursday, March 5, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 16.0° F  Fair
The Daily
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Madison Community Cooperative membership vote staves off potential sale of Lothlorien
In the vote, 57 MCC members voted to sell versus 64 who wanted to rebuild, while 11 abstained.
Credit:Kristian Knutsen

Lothlorien will live to fight another day.

The fire-damaged, four-story cooperative house on Lake Mendota has been spared -- for now -- after members from 11 sister cooperatives voted over the past week not to sell it.

The 31-unit house has been vacant since a Sept. 11 fire scattered its 34 residents. The governing board of Madison Community Cooperative (MCC) -- which owns Loth and 10 more cooperative homes in the city -- in early March recommended selling the 244 W. Lakelawn Pl. property that's worth at least $1.6 million.

In February, estimates from MCC showed that repairing Lothlorien could put the non-profit organization a half-million dollars in the hole. Selling it -- and using the proceeds and insurance settlement to buy replacement units elsewhere in Madison -- could net MCC $150,000 in profit.

But before a vote was held March 25-31, current and past residents of the century-old building questioned these estimates and rallied support for their former home. A two-thirds majority was needed to approve the sale, but only 57 MCC members voted to sell versus 64 who wanted to rebuild (11 abstained).

"I'm pleased," Glyphia Doulas, a former Loth resident who advocated for saving the building, said after votes were tallied Monday night. "I think it shows a lot of people really want to keep the house."

Haven McClure, an 11-year cooperative veteran and MCC board officer, voted to sell and still worries that not doing so could drive up rents for other members, strain MCC's finances and hamper its mission to provide affordable housing.

But he acknowledges that Lothlorien -- the city's largest co-op, legendary for its parties and counter-culture vibe -- has a long history many want to preserve.

"It did touch more of a nerve than many of us may have anticipated," he said of the potential sale. "I think people ultimately wanted to give members of Loth more of a chance to work with MCC to figure out some solutions."

These solutions could include fundraising, using volunteer labor or exploring tax credits for fixing up buildings in historic districts, said Elijah McCloskey, a former Loth resident and student at UW. The group has received more than $27,000 in donations through a crowd-funding campaign, and McCloskey says they've only reached 400 of the estimated 1,000 or more people who have lived in Loth since it became a co-op in 1973.

If those alternatives fall short, however, the house could still be sold, McCloskey notes. But the recent vote bought organizers time to fully research other options before an all-membership meeting of MCC in late April.

"There's still work to be done," he said.

Located on the UW's fraternity row, Loth's property would be fitting for a five-story student apartment building, according to an appraisal in January.

That, too, rankled some observers, including Ald. Ledell Zellers, whose district includes Lothlorien.

"I would love to see the house saved," she said last weekend. Losing Loth and having "more generic kinds of buildings" in its place could "destroy the character" of the Langdon Street neighborhood, she said.

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