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Madison Common Council approves long-term diverters on Coldspring Avenue
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The first of two October meetings for the Madison Common Council was a relatively simple affair, with no major city policy initiatives up for discussion or a decision at the meeting. There was one issue, however, that attracted quite a bit of controversy and comment before all was said and done. This was the plan to establish permanent traffic diverting structures along Coldspring Avenue in the Lake Edge neighborhood on the east side of town, intended to reduce the number of speeding vehicles from Monona Grove High School that drive through the residential neighborhood. A matter of controversy for some two decades, the plan was adopted following considerable public testimony both in favor of and in opposition to the plans; it's likely that disagreements will continue over this quintessentially acrimonious neighborhood issue.

Also, Thomas Carto was officially confirmed as the new director of the Overture Center, Oct. 9 was declared Indigenous Peoples Day in the city, and Mayor Cieslewicz formally introduced his proposed 2007 Executive Capital Budget.

The meeting can also be viewed on TV and online from Madison City Channel 12 city council programming. The agenda (PDF) for tonight's meeting lists the items (and short descriptions) up for discussion and votes. Also, the report from the previous meeting of the Madison Common Council is here.

Live-blogging of this week's meeting follows below.


Before the meeting
Having completed its deliberations and decisions over official city Halloween policy at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 19, the Madison Common Council is returning to action as a complete body for the first of two meetings in October. The year is rapidly winding down for the city's legislative body, with only four remaining full meetings following this, with the exception of a three-night mid-November budget marathon, of course.

The council's plate is comparatively light at this meeting. There's only one item on the proposed consent agenda exclusions that might draw some discussion at the meeting from community members and alders. This plan -- very-long in the making -- would establish an "operational plan for the closure of Jerome Street at Coldspring Avenue and a gated traffic diverter on Coldspring Avenue at Bainbridge Street with limited hours of passage." Located on the east-side near Monona Grove High School, this plan is the result of many months of controversy between neighborhood residents over how best to address student traffic (oftentimes high-speed) to and from the school. This plan is the result of this discussion, and it's likely that this plan will not please everybody.

Room 201 of the City-County Building is fairly subdued in the thirty minutes preceding the meeting's 6:30 p.m. start time. Alders and city staff slowly filter in as the MCC-12 staff ready the audiovisual equipment for broadcasting the events on cable and online. The audience galleries in the wings of the room are fairly empty, too, with only a handful of persons waiting for things to begin.

However, as the bottom of the hour approaches, the pace of those arriving quickens. There are tens of persons in the galleries as the mayor gets set to begin; many of these individuals are likely to speak on Item 47, the one dealing with traffic on Coldspring Avenue.

Other items that may be drawing registrants include the mayor's formal introduction of his 2007 Executive Capital Budget, the confirmation hearing of Thomas Carto as the new director of the Overture Center, and an item proclaiming Monday, Oct. 9 as Indigenous Peoples Day in the city.


The meeting begins -- Naming a new Overture director
Roll is called a few minutes past 6:30 p.m., with every alder marked as present with the exceptions of Ken Golden (excused), Isadore Knox (absent) and Paul Skidmore (absent).

The show begins with a brief introduction from Thomas Carto, who was recently named by the city as the new director of the Overture Center. Following his comments, east-side alder Judy Olson asks Carto about what his approach will be towards booking shows at the center. "Booking performances is just part of my programming philosophy," Carto says. He has a two-tiered approach. The first is "finding the best quality acts nationwide," and "finding a diverse program, an eclectic program that satisfies different tastes" while still keeping an eye on the bottom line.

Carto is asked further questions by west-side alder Tim Gruber and north-side alder Santiago Rosas, focusing upon the new director's thoughts about the financing of Overture and his general vision for running the center. "I see three basic priorities for the center," Carto says. The first is financial stability, "something that absolutley has to happen" in order to make sure things keep running. Two, Overture should be "a community center" through outreach, education and programming initiatives. Three, to create and maintain a "programming vision" both within the organization and with the community beyond. In all, generally safe positions.

Carto also says he "will bring a stability in planning" in order to rebuild staff morale at the Center, responding to a question from south-side alder Isadore Knox (who arrived a few minutes late).

Carto is subsequently confirmed by a unanimous voice vote, and receives a round of applause.


Public hearings
The recessed public hearings for the report of the Alcohol Review Committee passes quickly with no registrants and is swiftly adopted. Likewise, the report of the Board of Estimates (which includes the proposed 2007 Executive Capital Budget) is swifly approved, with the budget referred to the Nov. 14 budget meeting. The Report of the Plan Commission -- which consists of a rezoning on the far southwest side -- is likewise adopted without comment.

The regular public hearings follow. The Report of the ALRC is up first, with a few registrants not wishing to speak but in support on several items. One is a new license for Adair's Lounge, a new establishment owned by Rita Adair that will be located at 121 West Main Street. Others include licenses for a new tavern named Happy Joe's on South Gammon Road, the new Cosi on State Street, and the new Great Dane at Hilldale. All are approved. Another new license for the Samba Steak House is also approved; this is the restaurant/tavern that will be located in the Women's Building on 240 West Gilman Street. There are numerous conditions for this license, mostly having to do with closing times and noise abatement.

The reports of the Board of Public Works and Plan Commission are subsequently addressed, with a downtown rezoning item in the later referred to a later council meeting.

With this, the meeting moves on to the consent agenda, which consists of five items this week.


The consent agenda
Up first is a report of the mayor regarding citizen committee appointments, one of whom is Michael Basford, a north-side resident who will be running for the council in the spring 2007 elections.

The second item to be addressed is the resolution declaring Monday, Oct. 9, 2006 as Indigenous Peoples Day in the city. There are two public registrants who speak in favor of the item; both are UW academics speaking on behalf of the American Indian community on campus. "Using opportunities like this to come together and celebrate the growth of continuing American Indian concerns is wonderful," says Ned Blackhawk, a professor of History and American Indian Studies at the University.

Alders Isadore Knox, Santiago Rosas and Robbie Webber request to be added as co-sponsors, and Zach Brandon requests to be recoreded as abstaining. Rosas also suggests that an Indigenous Peoples Month be considered in the future. With this, it quickly passes with a voice vote.

Items 23 (a change of ownership for Schwoegler Park Town Lanes bowling alley) and 41 (the 2007 operating plan for Madison's Central Business Improvement District) are subsequently passed without comment.


Coldspring barriers/diverters
The last item to be addressed at the meeting is the proposed permanent solution to the traffic kerfuffle that has consumed on east-side neighborhood for more than a year. If passed, this plan would create a long-term "operational plan for the closure of Jerome Street at Coldspring Avenue and a gated traffic diverter on Coldspring Avenue at Bainbridge Street with limited hours of passage," in order to curtail high-speed traffic going to and from Monona Grove High School through an adjacent residential neighborhood.

The language at use in the discussion is at issue itself, with supporters of the plan terming the concrete structures as "barriers" and opponents referring to them as "diverters." There are many registrants for this item, all of whom are neighborhood residents.

  • The first registrant speaks strongly in favor of the plan, saying that the structures already in place in the neighborhood have proven successful over the previous year.
  • The second registrant speaks against the item, stating that students' cars and school buses regularly use his driveway to turn around due to the structures.
  • "The diverters have definitely functioned as traffic calming devices," says the third registrant, who continues by saying that their permanent use would be a long-term viable solution. "I plead with the council to vote for the compromise put forth," she says, and hopes that they will also look to solve the problems faced by residents whose driveways and yards are used as "turn-arounds."
  • The next registrant is in opposition, saying that the ad-hoc committee was created with a "stacked deck" by district alder Larry Palm, and that the plan "is a cheap way to shut up a neighborhood."
  • The fifth registrant is in support. "I don't think anyone is completely pleased with the compromise," she says, particularly after the nearly two decade-long controversy. While the structures are proving effective in calming traffic, she continues, they are also problematic to their immediate neighbors, and thus approves a gated structre in the long-term. She also calls on the city of Monona and the Monona Grove School District to address the issue from their side as well.
  • "There is only one solution for this," says the next registrant, "and that is police protection." He opposes the current concrete structures in place, and also opposes any permanent gated structure, saying that both are evocative of a prison. Rather, the long-term solution are more police in the area -- "a couple of hours a week" -- to ticket the high school students speeding through the area. This Monona resident also says that the committee was stacked with Madison residents in support of the plan.
  • The seventh registrant, a Madison resident who has lived on Bainbridge Street for nearly half a century, supports the plan.
  • The next registrant, who has lived in the neighborhood for some twenty years, says the structures are a "sad commentary." She opposes the plan, saying that the city of Madison has not compromised on the issue.
  • The ninth registrant says her first work on the issue dates from the late 1980s. She says 72% of the neighborhood recently voted in favor of the plan, and while there is a very vocal opposition to the structures, most of the community supports their use. She also says that the city is planning on installing turn-arounds adjacent to the structures in order to alleviate stress on their immediate neighbors.
  • The tenth registrant speaks neither in support nor opposition, but largely speaks against the plan, saying that traffic data does not justify use of the structures. She emphasizes safety, saying that the recent school shootings are a reason to leave all roads open for emergency access.
  • The eleventh registrant supports the plan, and says Madison police don't have the resources to "watch over the kids" in another city. Rather, the plan provides the "most cost-effective solution." He concludes: "this is basically a convenience issue for Monona."
  • The final registrant says he's tired of the issue, and elects to "take a pass."
  • There is also one registrant in support not wishing to speak, and two in opposition not wishing to speak.

Several alders have questions for city engineers Larry Nelson and David Dryer, who discuss the cost of the plan and the approach towards handling high-speed traffic at Madison high schools. These questions actually go on for some time, with most of the focusing upon details of and potential alternatives to the plan, most of which are answered by Nelson.

Discussion on this item begins shortly after 8 pm. Judy Compton starts out by thanking Larry Palm for his work on the issue before voicing her concerns about how this might set a precedent in other neighborhoods, including near La Follette High School in her own south-east side district. Nevertheless, Compton says persons living near schools cannot expect to avoid all problems associated with the use of these buildings, which makes "it a very difficult one for me."

"Ever since I was elected," says Larry Palm, "this was the issue in the district." After thanking city staff, Palms speaks in favor of the plan. "This is what we come to," he says, with this plan being the most financially responsible solution to the dispute. "Diverters with a gate that has access are substantially more than what our previous precendents have bene," Palm continues. "I think we should listen to what the majority of the neighborhood wants, what the committee you established back in December agreed to, and what the city staff has endorsed."

The proposal subsequently passes by a voice vote with a few audible nos. A long-term plan "has been a long time in the works," says city traffic engineer David Dryer.


The meeting ends

With this final item in the agenda, all that remains is the introduction of new items from council president Austin King. Alder Zach Brandon also formally introduces a proposal requiring pharmacies in the city to provide notice on the availablity of emergency contraception. The meeting ends at 8:16 p.m.

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