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Thursday, September 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 51.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Wisconsin archival storage facility encounters resistance on Madison's north side
Neighbors want to shelve project
on
A rendering of the front of the facility.
A rendering of the front of the facility.
Credit:Engberg Anderson Inc. and SmithGroup

A plan to locate a $25 million, 60,000-square-foot state storage facility on Madison's north side is drawing a chilly reception from area residents, and could face difficulties winning Madison Common Council approval.

"I do not trust in any way the current Department of Administration, and I do not want them in my neighborhood," remarked one resident at a meeting on the plan last Thursday. Concerns were also raised about traffic, aesthetics and loss of greenspace.

The facility, to be located on state land off Troy Drive, would be used to store archival materials for the Wisconsin Historical Society and state Veterans Museum. It would have state-of-the-art temperature and humidity controls and rise to 58 feet at its highest point, with a complex shelving system that will add several million dollars to the project cost.

Once complete, the facility would employ 12 full-time and up to 13 part-time workers and have about 35 parking stalls. No portion would be open to the general public, but the design includes an outdoor ceremonial circle for Native American items that must be periodically used.

The building site is on state land adjacent to the Mendota Mental Health Center, adjacent to a thriving community garden. It was chosen by DOA more than a year ago, and the architecture work is mostly complete.

Madison's Plan Commission has already approved the requisite zoning change, from conservancy to limited manufacturing. All that's needed is a Common Council vote.

That was slated to happen last month, but newly elected Ald. Anita Weier - startled at the size and scope of the project - asked for a delay to allow for last week's meeting. It drew about 50 residents, many upset at having learned about the project only recently, due to breakdowns in the notification process.

"Let's stop toying with the north side from now on," fumed resident Jon Becker. "Don't start talking to us a year after you start and then expect us to give in to the momentum."

Now that the neighbors are involved, their feelings seem clear: Build it somewhere else. Weier says that of the 27 attendees who filled out forms she provided, 16 opposed the project and only one was in favor, with the remainder being unsure. She's also received at least 10 emails and two phone calls opposing the plan. On the plus side, several Troy Garden users have said they're okay with the building so long as it, as promised, does not cast a shadow on the gardens.

Several neighbors pushed to put the storage building elsewhere on the Mendota grounds, perhaps in place of an existing unused building. Weier agrees this idea merits further consideration.

"Considering what seems to be widespread community opposition, I would prefer another site," she says.

A Common Council hearing on the project is slated for next Tuesday, May 17. And Weier may ask her colleagues to refer the matter back to the Plan Commission, to allow for additional input.

State officials are willing to provide more information but disinclined to restart the process. They hope to put the project out for bids in July, break ground around Oct. 1, and complete the building in April 2013.

Crushing development

The plan to reuse concrete from the city of Madison's Williamson Street road reconstruction after it's crushed at nearby Union Corners is being touted as a green initiative. Neighbor Luther Gette thinks the city is a bit colorblind.

"Only if you went through the looking glass or down the rabbit hole could you call this project green," he says. "It looks pretty brown and dusty to me."

The project contractor has piled the concrete into a huge mound on the corner of Milwaukee Street and East Washington Avenue, to be crushed into small pieces to use as gravel base for the new road. The concrete for the first half of the project is being crushed this week; the second half will be done in midsummer.

"Seventy-five percent of the new base will be recycled," says Jim Wolfe, project engineer for the Willy Street reconstruction. This is the first time reuse of this material is being done "as a requirement" of a construction contract.

Wolfe says the city picked the Union Corners site to avoid hauling the concrete long distances. It considered other city sites, including the Garver Feed Mill, but the Madison Parks Division, which owns this building, objected.

Kevin Briski, the city's parks superintendent, says there was some concern that vibration from the crushing might damage the building's structure. But a "greater consideration was traffic to the area and on the property and the noise to the neighborhood and to Olbrich."

Gette, a retired hospital worker, says the project's noise, traffic, dust and disruption are no more welcome in his neighborhood. And he says it makes an eyesore out of Union Corners, which on June 3 will host entrants in a national competition to come up with ideas for the parcel.

Chides Gette, "Maybe we can put them on top of Mount Rubblemore!"

Roads not taken

Speaking of road projects, has anyone wondered - for instance, while they're stuck in traffic on East Washington during the outbound evening commute - why the city decided to tear up Williamson Street and Sherman Avenue at the same time?

Rob Phillips, the city engineer, says both streets faced state-mandated water-system improvements, and the city did not see the two projects as "conflicting." He disputes that closing Sherman Avenue is having a significant impact on East Wash.

Sherman Avenue, he says, typically handles lower volumes of 3,750 to 5,700 vehicles per day, which will mostly shift to parallel roadways like Johnson Street. But roughly half of the 17,000 to 21,500 vehicles per day on Williamson, now open only to inbound traffic, are being diverted, mainly to East Wash, with the greatest impact occurring during the evening commute.

Chief Wray bothered by guv's lack of response

In late February, following the release of a surreptitiously taped conversation in which Gov. Scott Walker admitted having "thought about" planting troublemakers at Capitol protests, Madison Police Chief Noble Wray issued a statement, which read in part:

"I would like to hear more of an explanation from Gov. Walker as to what exactly was being considered, and to what degree it was discussed by his cabinet members. I find it very unsettling and troubling that anyone would consider creating safety risks for our citizens and law enforcement officers."

Wray tells Isthmus his request has gone unanswered, to his chagrin: "I was very disappointed in not getting a response and probably more disappointed in the governor not giving a response to the state of Wisconsin."

The chief says Walker's response at the time - that "people have brought up all sorts of different options" and in this case "we shot that down" - is "inadequate," since it did not provide specifics or address his concerns.

"I didn't come out and accuse him of anything," notes Wray. "I came out and said how the comment sounded and asked for more clarity." He'd like Walker to make a "clear affirmative statement" that such tactics are unacceptable.

Cullen Werwie, the governor's spokesman, did not respond to a detailed email explaining Wray's concern and seeking comment.

Song of the times

Walker's office last week put out a press release titled "Bill singing will not likely start before 9:50," about an event scheduled that morning in Milwaukee; its main message also referred to this "singing." Thinking it best not to strain anyone's voice with a call, we emailed a response query: "Um, will there be musical accompaniment for the singing, or will it be a cappella?" The office thought it best not to respond.

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