Annual Report 2014
by Jim Skrentny
It's been five years since I accepted the position as chair of the First Settlement District. When I wrote my first annual report in 2010, the high-speed rail depot had been recently announced, The Cardinal was reopening, and a new apartment building was being proposed at the corner of E. Main and S. Blair streets. Two of these three became realities as well as many other welcomed additions over the past five years. Our neighborhood continues to improve and strengthen with its abundant and growing variety of living, dining and entertainment options.
Below are highlights from the prior year and for the year ahead:
- The Friends of Crowley Station (FCS) completed improvements to the seating at the Water Utility property on E. Wilson St. Last summer, we installed three additional table and chair sets on the upper deck and continue to see increased use of this space. This summer, raised planting beds will be installed along the railing of the lower deck for the new Crowley Station Community Garden. Gardeners have been working with FCS and the Downtown Community Gardens Group with the aim of creating Madison's newest community garden this spring. FCS will be also be working on getting additional bike parking installed this year.
- JDS Development received unanimous approval for their Judge Doyle Square proposal by the city committee charged with evaluating competing proposals. This reportedly $215 million proposal would add a 350-room hotel behind the Madison Municipal Building, replace the aging Government East Parking Ramp, and add retail/office space and residences. The proposal calls for a substantial public investment potentially nearing $100 million, which is under negotiation. Recommendations will be brought to the City Council by mid-August.
- The South Capitol Transportation Oriented District (SCTOD) Committee has completed its planning study and released its final report and recommendations. These recommendations include ideas for improving access to Lake Monona and Law Park, reconfiguring and simplifying of the intersection of S. Blair, E. Wilson, Williamson Sts., and John Nolen Dr., and changing E. Wilson St. to facilitate better pedestrian, bike and vehicular flow. Ideas range from small changes that can be done in the near term to visionary redevelopment that could dramatically change our side of Law Park.
- Rhythm and Booms will be moving to Lake Monona this summer on Saturday, 6/28, which will bring tens of thousands to what is expected to become another popular downtown event. Some concern was expressed about impacts on our neighborhood, but most are excited by and welcome this new event. Though there has been extensive planning, some unanticipated glitches will likely occur. Impacts on and feedback from our neighborhood will be collected and provided to the event organizers, Madison Festivals, Inc., to ensure the future success of this event.
- The Brayton Lot was repaved last summer at a cost of about $300,000 to address safety concerns with deteriorating pavement. In addition to repaving, and at the neighborhood's request, the Parking Utility will be installing some landscaping to soften the look of this otherwise unattractive lot. They also were required by the City Council to install "rain gardens", which are the large concrete pits in the terrace along Hancock St. Neighbors have expressed concern about perpetuating the use of this lot for surface parking and encouraged the City to reconsider the neighborhood's Brayton Lot Framework to develop this valuable downtown property.
The 100 blocks of both King and E. Main Sts. are being reconstructed to improve pedestrian access as well as outdoor use by local businesses. The existing street trees needed to be removed, but they were mostly vulnerable Ash trees. They'll be replaced with Elms, Locusts, Ginkos, and Ornamental Pears.
- Part of the parking lot behind the Essen Haus will again transform into a volleyball court for the second year in a row. Last year, the court proved to be quite popular for both team games as well as public use. Neighbors worked together with the business owner to address concerns and ensure a mutually agreeable outcome.
- A neighborhood steering committee has been working with the developer on plans to redevelop 330 E. Wilson St. This project proposes a six-story apartment building with more than 30 units. It will be the tallest structure at the intersection of E. Wilson and S. Hancock Sts. The committee has been encouraging the developer to consider design changes that improve the building's compatibility and relationship with the nearby historical commercial and residential buildings.
- Plans to redevelop a controversial apartment building at 149 E. Wilson St. received approval after being unsuccessfully appealed to the City Council by neighbors opposing it. This project proposes to construct between the Union Transfer and Marina Condominiums a 14-story apartment building with nearly 130 units. A group of neighbors have filed a lawsuit asking for the approval to be overturned due to safety and privacy reasons as well as lost property values.
- A recurring goal of mine is to find better ways to reach out to neighbors and keep us informed. Our neighborhood listserv has worked well in the past, but Yahoo has made it a bit more difficult for people to join resulting in fewer new members on our listserv (subscribe by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org). We'll continue to use it, but perhaps it's time to evolve the way we communicate and connect? I appreciate your ideas and help exploring options and making better use of social media.
Also note we've moved our regular neighborhood meetings to the second Tuesday of odd months. Dates for the remainder of 2014 are: 7/8, 9/9 and 11/11. We routinely hold these meetings at Bellini's at 401 E. Washington Ave. though we've occasionally held them at other neighborhood restaurants. Reminders of meeting dates and locations are posted on our listserv.
Volunteer organizations depend on people like you coming forward and offering your time and talents. Together we will shape our neighborhood's future and develop a stronger sense of community.