The City of Madison Plan Commission voted in favor of a permit to demolish five buildings to allow the construction of a luxury apartment building Tuesday night despite vocal dissent from area residents.
The permit application asked for consideration to allow construction of a 10-story, mixed-use building containing 1,200 square feet of commercial space and 148 apartments. The structure would be built over the land that currently serves as 402-414 E Washington Avenue, 8-12 N Franklin Street and 9 N Hancock Street and would include indoor parking for 146 automobiles and 148 bicycles to serve the development.
Opponents of the project argued in the meeting that the new luxury housing would exacerbate Madison’s affordable housing shortage and clash with the character of the James Madison neighborhood.
The letter of intent that Knothe & Bruce Architects submitted along with the application detailed the LLC’s plan to provide additional dwelling units to the area while addressing the issue of overpriced housing in Downtown Madison.
“Although the City has seen much new construction over the past several years, vacancy rates continue to hover around 3%, signaling a significant undersupply of housing,” Architect Duane Johnson wrote. “This undersupply directly leads to rising rents and the increase in housing costs for all City residents.”
The project will be scheduled to commence construction in spring 2021, with completion anticipated in late summer 2022.
Angie Black, a representative from the developer Wash Haus Development, argued that the building would be beneficial to the local community.
“City staff has recently acknowledged that we simply need more housing options at all scales and for all income levels,” Black said. “The city expects to add 70,000 new residents in the next 20 years and needs to build roughly 40,000 units to meet demand.”
Yet residents say that the high-rise is not the answer to Madison’s housing problem.
“We already have enough high-rises Downtown,” Ankita Bharadwaj, a Langdon Street resident said. “They’re occupied by rich, white college kids or people with jobs that are earning more than Madison’s median income. They won’t face homelessness anytime soon, but the rest of us will.”
Tasha Gjesdahl, a resident of N Franklin Street, stated that high-priced apartments not meant to house Madison’s Black, Indigenous and at-risk populations should not even be considered at the present.
“Every time the city approves market-rate apartment buildings, it’s very clear that they’re communicating that our unhoused population and low-income population are not a priority,” Gjesdahl said.
Several speakers noted the cost of each unit, upwards of $1,500, was not affordable for most Madisonians. In addition to this, several individuals from the James Madison area believed that the 10-story building would overshadow and be out of place among the two to three story residences in the neighborhood. Residents also pointed out that since the building would be situated in a location within walking distance of the downtown area, then there should be no need to allocate space for each unit to have parking.
“We, the community, have already rejected this project,” resident Larissa Joanna concluded.
Alder Patrick Heck, the representative for District 2, took the middle road in his comments on the project. He stated that while changes made to the initial plan were welcomed, such as decreasing the height of the structure, he was not sure if it was enough to make the building acceptable to the area. Ald. Marsha A. Rummel, District 6, echoed this, saying that the building did not fit the nature of the historic neighborhood.
Nonetheless, the motion passed with a 1-7, with Rummel being the only member voting against the plan.