The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation has sent a letter (PDF) to Madison Mayor Paul Soglin asking the city not to defend against part of a lawsuit over its handling of the Edgewater Hotel project.
A win by city will "seriously jeopardize the integrity of the Landmarks Ordinance" governing historic districts, wrote the group's executive director, Jason Tish.
At issue is ongoing litigation over the Common Council's decision last November to overturn the Landmarks Commission's rejection of the project. That drew a lawsuit from neighbors Fred Mohs and Eugene Devitt, who oppose the project. Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas dismissed the lawsuit, but agreed with the plaintiffs on one point: Only the owner of a property can apply for a variance based on financial hardship. In the Edgewater's case, the potential owner, Hammes Corp., applied for the hardship.
"Our ordinance does not give someone who has optioned a property a right to claim to serious hardship," says Mohs, who appealed Colas' ruling. "The person has to be an actual owner."
Tish asks that the city, in responding to the appeal, not challenge this point, so other applicants won't seek to overturn Landmarks Commission rulings without being actual owners. He doesn't believe conceding this point would kill the project.
"It's at the core of what we see as an abuse of the Landmarks Ordinance," Tish says. "It would open a pretty big loophole in the ordinance," if allowed to stand.
Mayor Soglin's office says it sent the letter to the city attorney's office for review, but otherwise declines comment. City Attorney Mike May rejects the suggestion that the city should give up any ground in its defense.
"We intend to do everything we can to contest the lawsuit," he says. "They raised this issue, and so we've got to defend it. That's our job, to defend actions taken by the city."
On Monday, Mohs met with Mayor Soglin and thinks it went well: "My impression is he's trying to get up to speed on a number of issues and the Edgewater is just one of them."