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The future of Union Corners

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The future of Union Corners

Postby narcoleptish » Fri May 13, 2011 8:38 am

I just read an article in the new Eastside News about the corners and the plans for this summer with a national conference by the Congress of New Urbanism (CNU). There will be a design competition among members of the CNU for the Union Corners site. Then a panel will be formed to go over the dozens of proposals and pick the best ones and then incorporate those ideas into a master guideline for developing what the neighborhood wants.

When is the part where they go out and find people with the means to make any of this happen? People who can actually get financing for a project of this scope, who are then willing to use that money to finance the pie-in-the-sky dreams of a bunch of other people.

It's easy to sit down and design your dream house but unless you can afford to build it, it's really just a DREAM house.

Wasn't this whole process gone through years ago with Mcgrath? If you've ever wondered where Madison gets the reputation of planning everything to death but rarely getting anything done, you're looking at it. The majority of ideas that people have for this site have no chance of paying for themselves. If people want this land to go back on the tax rolls in the foreseeable future, they're going to have to bend a little towards the vision of somebody with some money. That, or the city finances most of it and we'll get a professional public financing vacuum like Gorman in there and then you get what you get.
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby green union terrace chair » Mon May 16, 2011 4:16 pm

narcoleptish wrote:Wasn't this whole process gone through years ago with Mcgrath? If you've ever wondered where Madison gets the reputation of planning everything to death but rarely getting anything done, you're looking at it.

I disagree. The project was planned, approved and under way. Then the economy went to shit and McGrath (wisely) pulled back before he dug himself into a deeper hole, both figuratively and financially.
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby snoqueen » Mon May 16, 2011 6:10 pm

I don't think anyone with money is building much of anything now because hardly anything is selling.

The condo market is so overbuilt it'll take several years to catch up. Nobody's building single-family homes on a large scale. I haven't seen much commercial construction. I haven't seen rental units going up, either, unless some are being done with public financing to clean up crime neighborhoods or meet other social goals that won't happen without help.

It's too bad because the McGrath team and the neighborhood worked hard to come up with plans everyone could live with. But if I had a pile of money and owned that land, I can't think of anything I'd build right now either. I don't think anybody's at fault, at least not anyone in Madison.
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby narcoleptish » Wed May 18, 2011 5:35 pm

green union terrace chair wrote:
narcoleptish wrote:Wasn't this whole process gone through years ago with Mcgrath? If you've ever wondered where Madison gets the reputation of planning everything to death but rarely getting anything done, you're looking at it.

I disagree. The project was planned, approved and under way. Then the economy went to shit and McGrath (wisely) pulled back before he dug himself into a deeper hole, both figuratively and financially.


Point taken, but my point was that McGrath already did all the work of finding out what the neighborhood wanted, but now we're seemingly going through the whole process again with the intention of putting the neighborhood's wishes/desires/demands out there for some developer to come along and jump on. It's probably not going to happen if the neighborhood refuses the things that make a project financially feasible. Multi-story residential, parking, anchor tenants. And an anchor tenant is probably going to be a big name chain, not a pottery studio.

I am not trying to be anti-neighborhood input, I live here too, and I'm not opposed to the ideas of new urbanism. I just think a lot of people who show up at these meetings don't understand that something has to pay for the project and it's not the green spaces and public areas and bike parking. These things are great but the lack of income from these spaces has to be made up somewhere else, which usually means building up and/or bringing on a big tenant that you can count on to pay the rent. I don't think anybody believes that buildings above 4 stories are going to get approved there, so a prospective developer is going to be looking for that high profile tenant. The only big tenant the neighborhood seems to want is a grocery store. Well....guess what used to be there, barely getting by? Everybody WANTS a nice mid-size grocery nearby when they need milk and bread, but when it's time for the big trip, it's off to Woodman's or Hyvee. Maaaaybe a Trader Joe's could swing it there, but somebody would probably have a problem with them too.
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby snoqueen » Wed May 18, 2011 5:52 pm

Having just one anchor retail business is a high risk strategy, in a way. If that business goes bust (and businesses do) you've lost your financial stabilizer and the whole rest of the project is endangered.

If I were doing such a project I'd want a small array of "anchors" instead of only one.

Incidentally, the anchor businesses don't have to be retail. If you had some small light manufacturing you might actually do the neighborhood more of a favor. I think food-related is the trend in Dane County right now, and if you had a bakery, a specialty canning operation, a catering business with a busy kitchen, a mini-brewery, and the like you'd employ more people than you would with a Walgreens or a Hy Vee.

Think of the Willy Street Coop's kitchen over on east main -- they employ a bunch of people, and it's not a neighborhood-unfriendly business at all. More businesses like that would be a good anchor for a developing neighborhood.

You'd also have less requirement for parking, since employees often find it more convenient to set up a regular bus commute than customers of a grocery or drug store do.
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby green union terrace chair » Wed May 18, 2011 7:42 pm

narcoleptish wrote:
green union terrace chair wrote:
narcoleptish wrote:Wasn't this whole process gone through years ago with Mcgrath? If you've ever wondered where Madison gets the reputation of planning everything to death but rarely getting anything done, you're looking at it.

I disagree. The project was planned, approved and under way. Then the economy went to shit and McGrath (wisely) pulled back before he dug himself into a deeper hole, both figuratively and financially.


Point taken, but my point was that McGrath already did all the work of finding out what the neighborhood wanted, but now we're seemingly going through the whole process again with the intention of putting the neighborhood's wishes/desires/demands out there for some developer to come along and jump on.

Ah, I get what you're saying and I do agree with you.
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby SombreroFallout » Wed May 18, 2011 10:54 pm

narcoleptish wrote:I just think a lot of people who show up at these meetings don't understand that something has to pay for the project and it's not the green spaces and public areas and bike parking.


This is where you go off the rails. It's more than a little paternalistic to assert that people "don't understand that something has to pay for" it. It's pretty much a stereotype, and feel free to repeat it as often as possible -- just take responsibility for the damage. It also resorts to a false choice, that somehow density can't be combined with quality proposals that include realistic civic spaces and functional green elements. That somehow those attributes necessarily subtract from a reasonable profit. That's just not true.

In addition, in recent years in at least one few specific developers have felt comfortable pushing proposals that broke prevailing zoning codes, with encouragement from the city, and generally did everything they could to live up to stereotype, from threatening and deriding to pushing entirely unreasonable project concepts into neighborhoods totally built and designed for other land use categories -- hoping to get their way just by pushing and pushing and pushing and coming back so often with increasingly unreasonable and increasingly dense concepts. Despite the unlawful conduct and egregious attempts to inflame opposition, city reps and staff failed to put the process on a stable course.

You'll forgive your fellow citizens for expecting a process that adheres to, rather than violates, the City's lawfully adopted Comprehensive Plan.

And make no mistake: I'm all for solid projects, but that's just the way it is. I'm all for dense urbanism -- but that's not an excuse for unloading suburban projects in the heart of the city, and by that I mean surburban in substance, in aesthetics, and in function. The solution to sprawl is hardly to make urban projects so poorly functioning and so unresponsive to context that they generate another round of flight from the city to better-designed neighborhoods that have (also) invested in the built environment in such a way that it delivers an urban high quality of life. The solution is not to unload the same crappy designs and low-quality construction methods and non-urban-functioning projects on neighborhoods that DO work.

I don't think anybody believes that buildings above 4 stories are going to get approved there


Totally disagree. Whatever gets approved on East Wash will be taller than four stories. That is, as long as the developer doesn't pull another self-castration in the process of saddling the city with yet another half-baked starved-for-vision project that simultaneously shortchanging the site's highest and best use while leaving behind a less-than-fully-functional white elephant for someone else to clean up.

so a prospective developer is going to be looking for that high profile tenant. . . . . Maaaaybe a Trader Joe's could swing it there, but somebody would probably have a problem with them too.


No, they won't. That's Old Europe Old School thinking. Why destabilize the entire project by handcuffing yourself to some giant, brittle corporation? You gonna put in a Best Buy or Old Navy, or the corporate offices for McMansions McBuilders, or I guess maybe Enron's next customer service call center. To be fair, you should hop up real quick and lock a realistic tenant in right away -- one like M&I Bank -- you know, before they sell themselves off to some Canadian bank and award themselves massive 'bonuses' all without paying off their TARP bailout or resuming lending in their service area.
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby snoqueen » Wed May 18, 2011 11:53 pm

... my point was that McGrath already did all the work of finding out what the neighborhood wanted, but now we're seemingly going through the whole process again with the intention of putting the neighborhood's wishes/desires/demands out there for some developer to come along and jump on.

Ah, I get what you're saying and I do agree with you.


And how many times have we sat through another planning session for the Great Central Park thing? I believe at least three.

I do not know why this has to repeat itself either. However, the economy has changed a lot in the last five years. We may be a little wiser in that now we (might) recognize a real estate bubble and unsustainable plans when we see them. Maybe.
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby LargeMarge » Thu May 19, 2011 8:05 am

Is the land too valuable for single-family housing? I like the area. There's several bars nearby. You aren't too far from both Woodmans and Willy St Coop. It's convenient to the bike path and bus routes.

I prefer the layout of modern housing (decent-sized closets, open kitchen, a master bathroom). However, all the areas that I would like to live in have older housing.
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby gargantua » Thu May 19, 2011 11:27 am

Since they are looking to expand and would prefer to remain in the city, maybe the Ale Asylum Brewery/Taproom could relocate there. They're stable, they employ people, and I don't think they'd need to be four stories high. It would sure be better than having them move to Sun Prairie or some such.
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby O.J. » Thu May 19, 2011 11:37 am

gargantua wrote:Since they are looking to expand and would prefer to remain in the city, maybe the Ale Asylum Brewery/Taproom could relocate there. They're stable, they employ people, and I don't think they'd need to be four stories high. It would sure be better than having them move to Sun Prairie or some such.


Please let this happen.
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby Maeve » Thu May 19, 2011 1:03 pm

Last time I was at Ale Asylum one of the bartenders told me it's rumored that it may relocate to an existing building in the East Washington corridor. (If they can find one that's available.)
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby gargantua » Thu May 19, 2011 4:23 pm

Maeve wrote:Last time I was at Ale Asylum one of the bartenders told me it's rumored that it may relocate to an existing building in the East Washington corridor. (If they can find one that's available.)


I've talked to some Ale Asylum folks, and they'd like to be on East Wash. They get the impression that the city would like it too, but apparently the process involved in dealing with the city is, well, complicated. Sun Prairie and another local unit of government have indicated that they'd love to have them.

It would really suck if they left Madison, especially since they want to stay and the city says they want them to stay.
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby barney » Thu May 19, 2011 5:26 pm

The Fyfe's spot would work well for them, but I'm sure it's exorbitant...
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Re: The future of Union Corners

Postby narcoleptish » Sat May 21, 2011 8:12 am

SombreroFallout wrote: It also resorts to a false choice, that somehow density can't be combined with quality proposals that include realistic civic spaces and functional green elements. That somehow those attributes necessarily subtract from a reasonable profit. That's just not true.


If people understand so well then how could they be led to this conclusion? What I said, and what should be easy to understand, is that when elements like these are included, the dedicated space will not be generating any income thus the spaces that do will have to generate more, which usually means building up. Lots of people seem to view a developers desire to build tall as nothing more than greed.

SombreroFallout wrote:
In addition, in recent years in at least one few specific developers have felt comfortable pushing proposals that broke prevailing zoning codes, with encouragement from the city, and generally did everything they could to live up to stereotype, from threatening and deriding to pushing entirely unreasonable project concepts into neighborhoods totally built and designed for other land use categories


Are you talking about anything that actually got built? Just curious.

SombreroFallout wrote:[
I don't think anybody believes that buildings above 4 stories are going to get approved there


Totally disagree. Whatever gets approved on East Wash will be taller than four stories. That is, as long as the developer doesn't pull another self-castration in the process of saddling the city with yet another half-baked starved-for-vision project that simultaneously shortchanging the site's highest and best use while leaving behind a less-than-fully-functional white elephant for someone else to clean up.


And who/what are you talking about here?

The city may get behind taller buildings west of the river but at Union Corners I think neighborhood opinion might win out. Once you go past 4 stories, building costs soar and unless you're getting campus rents, buildings at 5,6,7 stories are hard to pay for.
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