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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Overcast
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Intruding into Garver Feed Mill
Will developers pave paradise, put up a parking lot?
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Paddling down Starkweather Creek, where the water curves past the old Garver Feed Mill, it's easy to forget you're in the heart of Madison.

"You really feel like you're in a different place," says John Steines, a member of Friends of Starkweather Creek. "There's open sky, trees and hawks overhead. You see sandhill cranes and ducks. It's a great place for birdwatching."

But Friends of Starkweather Creek is worried that two proposals to redevelop the Garver Feed Mill will mean paving over some of the 22 acres of open land. Two developers - Common Wealth Development and Barnsdale Land Co. - have submitted plans to the city that each call for approximately 200-250 parking spaces.

"It's a pretty big intrusion into the space," says Steines.

Common Wealth wants to turn the mill into an arts incubator, with studios, a museum and a gift shop. Barnsdale has proposed using the site for a "sustainability center," with a lecture hall, lodge, market and offices for nonprofits.

On Monday, the city put the process on hold, pending passage of the 2008 capital budget, which contains what some see as a problematic provision that gives Common Wealth an unfair advantage. But no matter which plan the city ultimately picks, new parking will be needed, say the two developers. "The question is, how much?" says Marianne Morton, executive director of Common Wealth.

Jim Hirsch, project manager for Barnsdale, says it proposed 250 parking spaces because the city's zoning code dictated that much. "There are a certain number of spaces required for the lodge, the offices and everything."

But the parking numbers are preliminary and could be scaled down. Both projects aim to be environmentally friendly, using green building techniques and minimizing storm water runoff. "As a sustainability center," says Hirsch, "our proposal is required to be sensitive to the creek."

Steines notes that the city's original plan called for restoring wetlands. But he admits that's unlikely, since the land has been tainted by industrial waste.

Friends of Starkweather Creek has proposed that the mill share parking with Olbrich Botanical Gardens next door, instead of building its own lot. "There are already parking lots at Olbrich that are not heavily used," says Steines.

The group also suggests that developers add 100 parallel parking spaces along the entry road.

"That could provide some parking, absolutely," agrees Morton. "If we can come up with some creative solutions, our goal is to minimize parking."

Faulting Mayor Dave

Dave Cieslewicz has lost another key ally.

Last month LaMarr Billups sent Madison's mayor a scathing email after learning he was hiring Ray Harmon as his newest aide. Billups had recommended Johnny Winston Jr., a Madison school board member, for the post.

"I've hung in there with you through some difficult times and decisions," Billups wrote to the mayor. "You make it hard on yourself. You're stubborn, not steadfast, and it's a serious fault in leadership." (Find the full email HERE.)

Billups, who was an assistant to the chancellor at UW-Madison before leaving earlier this year for Georgetown University, has been one of Cieslewicz's biggest supporters in the black community. In 2005, he defended the mayor's controversial decision to merge the city's equal opportunities and affirmative action functions. And this spring, Billups supported Cieslewicz over Ray Allen.

"Do you know how hard it is for any black person to back a white progressive, when a black candidate is running?" Billups asked in his email. "[E]specially if that white progressive is already perceived in most quarters as insulting an entire community[?]"

In the email, Billups noted that Winston wanted to be Cieslewicz's aide because he plans to someday run for mayor himself. Billups accused Cieslewicz of having a "plantation mentality" for advising Winston against becoming an aide if he has political aspirations. "He's a grown man and can determine what's good for him and his future on his own," Billups wrote. "He knows himself and his community...better than you."

Mayoral spokesman George Twigg says Cieslewicz has not responded to Billups. He declines to further comment, saying, "The mayor considers this a private matter."

Pulling the plug

State Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) will try to amend the controversial "Video Competition" bill as it's debated this week on the Senate floor. The bill, which is being pushed by telecommunications giant AT&T, would let cable companies create a single statewide franchise, instead of having to negotiate with individual municipalities.

Miller wants to eliminate a provision that would end funding for community-access channels within three years. The channels are currently funded through a monthly surcharge on consumers' cable bills.

Brad Clark, station manager of Madison City Channel 12, says the channel will go dark without the funding. He questions what this has to do with the legislation's larger purpose: "If you're going to pass a statewide bill, at least do something that doesn't pull the rug out from under community stations."

But even with his proposed changes, which include reassessing a statewide cable franchise every 10 years, Miller thinks the bill is a bad idea.

"Too many citizens and too many legislators have bought into the proposition that this will increase competition," says Miller, who doubts this will occur. He adds that some backing for the bill is simply backlash against local providers like Charter Communications: "There's so much irritation out there that if anyone has a chance to poke Charter in the eye, they're going to do it."

Dane Dems fight it out

For the first time since being elected chair of the Dane County Democrats in 2003, Wayne Bigelow has a challenger. Russell Wallace, a member of the party's executive board, is opposing Bigelow at the party's Nov. 14 membership meeting.

Wallace faults Bigelow for not expanding membership. "We essentially do no new member recruitment," he complains, adding that the number of members has declined in recent years. "It's not a priority for Wayne."

Wallace says the local party needs to be strong for the 2008 presidential elections, so the Democrats "don't have to build a campaign from scratch."

Bigelow says the party has a track record of success, helping liberals take control of the Dane County Board last year. "I think we were instrumental in helping Scott [McDonell] become chair," he says. "I'm particularly pleased that Dave Blaska got beat. That was great."

He argues that increasing membership is more difficult than Wallace realizes; in 2005, the party spent $6,000 on mailings to recruit new members. "Unfortunately, it didn't work," says Bigelow. "We only got 30 new members."

Bigelow notes bitterly that Progressive Dane members who are also Democrats swarmed a membership meeting last winter, trying to get the party to endorse PD candidates for Madison city council. He expects more of the same on Nov. 14. "That's the only way Russell Wallace can conceivably come close to winning."

But Wallace says the ongoing feud between Progressive Dane and the Democrats has to end. "I do think our strategy for dealing with Progressive Dane is a failure," he says. "Our members don't want us fighting fellow progressives."

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