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Thursday, March 5, 2015  |   Madison, WI: 16.0° F  
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Citizen Dave: McGrath apartment tower at 149 East Wilson should go forward
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The politics of this sort of thing are always hard.

Look at this building. It's horrible. In fact, it's worse than horrible. This vacant former state office building at 149 E. Wilson St. is to buildings what Honey Booboo is to popular culture, what Duck Dynasty is to modern thinking about civil rights, and what Chris Christie is to smooth traffic flow.

This is a building that richly deserves to fall to the wrecking ball. You could raise money by allowing people to swing at it with sledgehammers.

So when a developer proposes to remove the eye sore and replace it with a sleek new 14-story building, an apartment complex that will add millions of dollars in property value and plenty more downtown residents (who will in turn spend money in restaurants, bars, and shops), why isn't the city excited about making this happen?

Because some of people who live in condominiums flanking the proposed building would have their views ruined. That's an answer, but it's not good enough to stop the project. The Plan Commission voted the other day to delay what I hope is an inevitable approval by two weeks so that more discussions could take place. Maybe some alterations could happen to ameliorate some of the concerns that have been raised, but nobody seems to hold out much hope for that.

Look, I'm not totally unsympathetic to the condo dwellers.

For most of us our home is our biggest investment -- although in the case of folks who live in these towers it might not be. They tend to be people of means. But whether it’s our biggest investment or among the biggest, we have an obligation to do our due diligence. So, if you buy a house in the shadow of a stadium, you've sort of forfeited your right to complain when football games take place there. And when you buy a condo with a view facing a low-slung, crummy building like this one, you should have taken into account that someone might want to build a building right next to it that's remarkably like the one you live in yourself.

The politics of this sort of thing are always hard because those who will be negatively affected by the development are already there and they already vote. The folks who would enjoy the new development obviously aren't there yet, and so the only voice for it is that of the developer, who can too easily be caricatured as some sort of profiteer.

But the community advantages are clear for Madison. The McGrath development will be good for the downtown, good for the city's property tax base, good for nearby local businesses and good for urban design. The Plan Commission should do what it can within reason to soften the impacts on neighbors, but in the final analysis, they shouldn't just say yes, they should say thank you.

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