Ald. Mark Clear wants to see the proposed $97 million expansion of the Edgewater Hotel get the city approvals it needs. To this end, he's looking to change the city of Madison's zoning law to give the project a better shot.
This week Clear introduced an ordinance amendment to exempt commercial developments from lakefront setback requirements. That means the Edgewater project would need Common Council approval as a planned unit development, instead of a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
A similar rule change is being considered as the city rewrites its zoning code, according to Matt Tucker, city zoning administrator. But Clear's amendment would make this happen sooner, to benefit the Edgewater project.
"I had high hopes that the new zoning code would be adopted by now," says Clear, who calls the current zoning code "anachronistic" and describes the change as "very minor."
"Nothing changes about the process except it wouldn't need a zoning variance," he says. "The Plan Commission could still make a ruling on what it wants the setback to be."
Both Clear and Tucker say the change would affect only a small number of projects, as there is not much in the way of commercial lakefront development in Madison. But it would possibly help avoid a court battle over Edgewater.
Appeals to decisions by the Zoning Board of Appeals go to the courts, not the Common Council. And, says Clear, "No matter what the ZBA decided, [the Edgewater decision] would have gone to court."
Ald. Mike Verveer hasn't decided whether to support the rule change, but in general is "not excited about amending another law to allow one development project to neatly fit within our codes."
Others offer harsher assessments. "[Y]our action is part of a disturbing trend of the mayor and council no longer trusting the process," wrote former Ald. Steve Holtzman in an email to Clear. "What kind of subversion of Madison tradition and democratic values has council process devolved to?"
On Tuesday, Clear's zoning change was referred to several city committees, which will make a recommendation to the council. Mike Basford, a member of both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Plan Commission, declines to comment on the proposal but says the ZBA does a good job on variance requests.
"We've been extremely consistent with how we judge these applications that come before us," he says. "Whoever wasn't on the prevailing side, I think would be hard-pressed to prove that we didn't follow the law."
A fight club at West High
Cassie Frankel seems an unlikely martial arts warrior.
The sophomore at West High heard about the Mixed Martial Arts Club from her chemistry teacher and decided to give it a try. The group meets Thursdays at noon, learning and practicing a variety of fighting styles, including boxing, wrestling, judo and jujutsu.
"I like that it's an individual sport because I'm not that athletic," Frankel says during a break in practice. "It's more about how your body works." She likes boxing best: "I feel really tough with the boxing gloves, even though they're pink."
The West High club, the only one of its kind in the state, has prompted questions about its appropriateness. Kirk Mefford, a West High chemistry teacher who sponsors the club, says one teacher called it "human cock fighting."
The West High School nurse, Lynne Svetnicka, while not opposed to the idea of the club, says the nurse's office sees one or two injuries, generally minor, every time the group practices.
"We shouldn't be doing things in school that cause injuries," she says. But, she notes, "We also have shop class and other things where we get injuries. We've got 2,000 kids. There are a million things that can happen in the school building."
Mefford calls the club "a way to get in shape and build self-confidence by learning self-defense." He says it draws a diverse mix of about 100 students: African Americans, Caucasians, Albanians, Latinos, women, people of all economic levels and even cognitively disabled students.
"It's kind of funny to say, but we're united through fighting."
Mefford would like to see similar clubs at other area schools, in part because "we have to compete against ourselves at this point."
Frankel acknowledges the controversy over teaching kids to fight. But, she says, "I think it's a good idea because if you know how to fight you're less likely to get hurt."
Addicts of city politics who can't get their fixes in person or via cable can log on to the Madison City Channel website, www.mcc12.tv, where the meetings are streamed live. But during the council's Jan. 5 meeting, during which it reconsidered a vote on the Edgewater Hotel, some folks found that they were unable to connect.
"We've got people who are not having a good experience doing the streaming," notes David Faust, the city's systems and programming manager.
While the city's license with its server allows for up to 1,000 simultaneous connections, there isn't enough bandwidth for that many connections. "After about 18 simultaneous users," says Faust, "it maxes out."
This week, the Common Council introduced a proposal to upgrade its server, for a one-time fee of $25,000, to allow as many as 450 connections. "If that becomes a problem," Faust says, "it's probably a good thing." But it's hard to imagine that many political junkies.