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Wednesday, April 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 38.0° F  Overcast and Breezy
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Madison Plan Commission approves controversial Monroe Street development

Former Madison alderman Ken Golden spoke in favor of the proposed development Monday night.
Former Madison alderman Ken Golden spoke in favor of the proposed development Monday night.
Credit:Taylor Harvey
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"I support smart development, but I am against this proposal."

That's what Knickerbocker Street resident David Shaffer told Madison's Plan Commission, which late Monday night approved a controversial plan to replace a car service station at 2620 Monroe St. and an early 20th century bungalow on Knickerbocker with a mixed-use development. It was a sentiment shared by many other critics of the proposed development.

The three-and-a-half story building, which landlord Fred Rouse of Rouse Management said would be tailored toward young professionals, would contain 21 apartments and stand on the northeast corner of Monroe and Knickerbocker Streets. The development is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2014.

Those opposed to the development, including Ald. Ledell Zellers, the only commission member to vote against the proposal (PDF), said the building would in many ways disrupt the treasured Dudgeon Monroe Neighborhood's character.

Opponents raised concerns over the building's scale, the demolition of the bungalow at 665 Knickerbocker St. and the inevitable traffic that would further clog an already bustling neighborhood. "What is the added value here?"

Among those asking this question was Madison resident David Maraniss, a Pulitzer-prize winning author and associate editor for the Washington Post, who lives on Knickerbocker Street next door to the bungalow slated for demolition.

"This is about the tearing down of a residential house to build a development that exceeds the zoning standards and disrupts a wonderful, kid-friendly street," Maraniss wrote. "For many reasons, this is an unwanted precedent in the Monroe Street neighborhood. If there is self-interest on our side, it's for the neighborhoods that keep this city great."

The zoning standards Maraniss referred to in his speech state that a development project must not obstruct a neighborhood plan -- in this case, the Monroe Street Commercial District Plan (PDF). According to the plan, buildings higher than three stories would need "creative design and presentation, consideration of contextual impact, important compensating value-added features, and effective prior consultation with the neighborhoods."

After many years of deliberations, the Common Council last year passed a new zoning code in an attempt to create a more efficient process for approving new developments. But critics say it has also made it more challenging for residents to have a say in new developments proposed in their neighborhood.

"The problem is the neighborhood association under the new zoning ordinance is looking, really feeling, to see its role," said Sherwood Malamud, president of the Dudgeon Monroe Neighborhood Association. He added the neighborhood association voted 11-2 against the proposal, agreeing the building does not contain enough value-added features to warrant construction.

But Ald. Sue Ellingson, whose district includes the proposed development, supports the plan. She said the building is "relatively small" and that the additional density would add value to the neighborhood.

"I don't think this is a perfect proposal, but I think it's pretty good," Ellingson said. "And it's better than what's there."

She said residents would likely not see a significant change in traffic on Monroe Street or on neighboring streets because the development is convenient to other modes of transportation, with nearby bus routes and bike trails.

Architect Randy Bruce, of Knothe & Bruce Architects, said the development itself was an added value, noting the building's "urban flair" and "durable appearance."

"We have a highly detailed building, and we used the finest materials," Bruce said. "We used a certain kind of brick to fit in with other neighborhood buildings."

Among the project's supporters was Tom Rice, the owner of the Town and Country car service station, formerly a gas station, which would be demolished to make way for the new building. He said the building would be a great asset to the neighborhood, adding "change is good, build it up, and let it go."

"I've been [on Monroe Street] 40 plus years," Rice said. "I've lived in that neighborhood -- I grew up in that neighborhood -- and I've seen many-a-changes; some good, some bad. But the quality of that neighborhood has never changed."

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