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Small group of UW students speaks against West Mifflin development
Rhetoric Monday night was much calmer, though lengthy, thanks to the 15 public speakers each given three minutes in front of the commission.
Rhetoric Monday night was much calmer, though lengthy, thanks to the 15 public speakers each given three minutes in front of the commission.
Credit:Lin Weeks

Student activism and a proposal for a new apartment complex on West Mifflin Street came together Monday night at the public hearing portion of Madison's Plan Commission meeting. The meeting addressed, among other matters, the location and design of a plan put forth by developer Patrick McCaughey for a four-story, multi-unit complex on the corner of the 400 block of Mifflin Street, tearing down the abandoned Planned Parenthood building and a neighboring house to do so.

About ten students, including the four creators of the "Save Mifflin" Facebook group attended the event. The Facebook group, which includes over 5,700 members, listed the date and time of Monday's meeting but also stated "You do not have to actually attend," instead serving as something of a digital petition and gauge of student sentiment on the issue.

The Facebook group's "Wall" has been a source of at times vehement debate between students for and against the complex, with well-reasoned arguments and vitriolic personal attacks appearing in roughly equal proportions. Rhetoric Monday night was much calmer, though lengthy, thanks to the 15 public speakers each given three minutes in front of the commission.

McCaughey, who spoke first, stressed the compromises he has already made to the plans, and issued a plea that the commission members not buy into hyperbole surrounding the complex.

"Contrary to Twitter and Facebook, we're not there to tear down the rest of the block," he said.

He and another representative pointed out that a new plan for a recessed fourth floor would make the apartment appear to be just three stories from ground level. They also noted that the building's footprint had been pushed further from the street to better match the front yard and balcony spaces characteristic to the 400 and 500 blocks of Mifflin.

McCaughey also stated that prices for the apartments would be significantly lower than previously reported -- down to $675 for an efficiency unit from the $1,000 that had been mentioned before.

The students representing the "Save Mifflin" organization divided their approach, one giving a brief background, one speaking about Mifflin's history, one describing typical features of houses on the street and a fourth talking about the financial implications of the apartment complex for students.

"Mifflin offers a unique social atmosphere and academic experience," said UW student Adam Milch. "It's not just about the social aspect."

The first speaker of the four, Rachel Klaven, took issue with the perception that the cause has gained traction only because of students' love for the street's annual block party.

"A lot of people have been insulting us, saying that the only reason people paid attention is because of the word Mifflin in the title," she said. But, Klaven pointed out, even if only 20% of group members cared about preserving the traditional character of Mifflin St. it would still constitute a group of over 1000 members.

Indy Stulka of "Save Mifflin" took issue with the assertion that housing aimed at young professionals is a better economic option for downtown businesses. Identifying himself as a "lower income student," Stulka claimed that the types of students living on Mifflin Street are those most likely to stay in Madison during the summer months "to work and to intern."

Stulka also expressed disappointment that McCaughey should have checked with student residents before planning the development. "We feel that, while he didn't break any regulations, he didn't follow them in spirit."

Other speakers included area residents for and against the proposed development, a representative for ASM's Legislative Affairs Committee, the president of the Metropolitan Place board of directors, former mayoral candidate Jeremy Ryan and Ald. Mike Verveer.

Verveer took the unexpected step of asking the commission to delay their deliberations until their next meeting on February 21 in order to accommodate the Urban Design Commission and to better take into account modifications proposed but not yet finalized by the developers. Though he didn't note where he stood on the issue, Verveer was impressed by student response to the issue.

"I have never seen this level of student interest in a land use application," he said. "Ever."

The motion to refer the commission's decision to the February 21 meeting was then quickly and unanimously passed.

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