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Tuesday, November 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 22.0° F  Overcast
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Old University Avenue development gets nod from Madison Plan Commission
on (1) Comment
There were concerns that the building will be too high.
Credit:eppstein uhen: architects

Plans for a major New Urbanist-style development project on an awkward triangle of land next to Campus Drive moved ahead this week, without much opposition as it won approval from the Plan Commission.

The property, dubbed 2500 Block by the developers, is a wedge of land between Campus Drive, University Avenue and Highland Avenue. It will require the demolition of six buildings, create 130 apartment units, and 8,600 square feet of retail space.

Perhaps most unusual for the project (PDF) is there will be no surface parking for the retail space. "This is not a power center for shopping," said Brain Munson, a designer with Vandewalle & Associates, which is developing the project for the Mullins Group. "These are neighborhood oriented businesses."

The six-story building will have underground parking for residents, who are expected to be young professionals. The developers originally wanted to build an eight-story project, but reduced the height because of concerns from neighbors. Some neighbors would like them to reduce it even more, but the developers said that makes the project unfeasible.

"Basically, the removal of a floor removes 20% of our income, but doesn't reduce the cost that much," Brain Mullins told the commission. "The average rental cost would have to be about $1,600 a month [with the reduced size]. That would not work."

Not everyone was concerned about the height. Neigbor Saul Glazer told the commission, "it'll never be higher than the VA Hospital. The only thing it'll do is block the view of the VA Hospital, which is probably the ugliest building in Wisconsin."

Darci Foss, president of the Regent Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood group supports the project, though she added, there was no "unanimous opinion. There were people who liked the project, people who didn't, and people who liked the overall concept but had some concerns. Generally, the closer you lived to the project, the less people liked it."

Still, there were concerns that the building will be too high, put further stress on already-crowded street parking, and cause noise problems. The neighborhood association and Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, who represents the area, asked the commission to place a number of conditions on the development: restricting hours when the outdoor patio areas will be open, looking at parking and signage issues, ensuring a 12-foot setback along University Avenue, among others. The commission rejected a request to limit the hours at outdoor patios to 9 p.m., a condition that the nearby Blue Moon Bar and Grill operates under.

Bidar-Sielaff said she'll attempt to add the condition when the project comes to the Common Council on Jan. 4. She pointed out that two alders on the Plan Commission -- Lauren Cnare and Julia Kerr -- did support limiting the hours, suggesting it might get more support with Common Council.

"I and my neighbors have been working on this for a year and I think it's a reasonable request, so I was taken aback that the Plan Commission would reject it," said Bidar-Sielaff. "The neighborhood has been extremely gracious. Even though people have some concerns by the height of the project, they haven't opposed it."

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