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Friday, December 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Overcast
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Citizen group concedes push for referendum on Judge Doyle Square likely to fail
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Andy Olsen (left) says CA$H will organize citizens to lobby alders against the Judge Doyle Square development, while Ald. Larry Palm (right) says he is undecided on the project.

A citizens group collecting signatures for a petition to force a referendum on Judge Doyle Square conceded Wednesday that it likely won't be able get the more than 16,000 signatures needed to force a vote.

Citizens Against Subsidized Hotels (which uses the acronym CA$H) had been trying to gather the signatures by June 29.

Although the group believes that opposition to the Judge Doyle Square project -- which could take as much as $100 million in city aid -- is high, it admits it won't likely meet the deadline.

Andy Olsen, a former Madison alderperson and Dane County supervisor, says the group will instead work on getting residents to lobby their alders against the development.

The group had proposed a referendum for November, which, if approved by voters, would require the city to obtain approval from voters for any project that uses more than $10 million in tax incremental financing or gives away city land.

Olsen also says timing is an issue. Even if the group could get the needed signatures, it might not be able to have a referendum in place before the Common Council approves the project.

"Maybe we could have done it," Olsen says of the petition drive. "But with the city moving rapidly forward to rush this through, we realized that even if we did it, the hotel could still be built."

Adds Olsen: "If they make the decision prior to the referendum being passed by voters, it wouldn't matter."

On Monday, the city's Board of Estimates got an update on negotiations between city officials and the developer, Bob Dunn of Hammes Company. Dunn has proposed a rough design scheme, which has been criticized by city engineering staff.

Ald. Larry Palm calls the idea that the council is trying to rush the project "hogwash."

"It's an attempt to spin an initiative that wasn't all that successful," Palm adds.

Olsen says that the group has collected several thousand signatures calling for a referendum and some members of the group are continuing to gather them.

Olsen notes that many council members resented the idea of letting voters decide on the matter, arguing that in a representative democracy voters elect leaders to advocate on their behalf. He says if alders really believe in representative democracy, they should listen to citizen input on the project.

"This will be a test of Madison democracy to see if alders listen to the overwhelming citizen opposition to a record subsidy for a hotel, or if they simply heed a convention industry clique."

Palm says that he has yet to hear from many residents about the project and that he has not decided whether he supports it or not.

"There are still a thousand and one unanswered questions," he says. "I certainly won't vote for something before it's fully baked. We're not even in the oven yet."

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