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Tenney Lapham Neighbors Still Want Smart Development

I have two little kids, so I don't make it to many neighborhood meetings. But I have been thinking about how the proposed development for the 1000 block of East Washington, right next to Lapham Elementary School, will affect the neighborhood. I wrote about it ("Parking is a Big Problem, but Not the Only One") and happily, a lot of people read it. The conversation is buzzing among neighbors. This feels healthy and necessary.

This is not a proposal to be rushed or forced. 

A process is in place for neighbors to be involved. A public meeting this week gave the developers the chance to present to a special Steering Committee. That committee will make a recommendation to the TLNA board. The board will then write an official neighborhood statement of approval or disapproval, which the city planners take into account. The Urban Design Commission eventually makes or breaks the project, as I understand it. The development team plans to move this forward with a proposal to the UDC next month.

At at the meeting, I felt vulnerable. The pace they are pushing feels too fast for me.

And I also recognized another feeling, a sense that I, or we, were being judged to be inexplicably working against our own best interests. I've been on the other side of that fence. I have that same thought when I wonder about "those people" who vote for Scott Walker even though his policies work directly against what I think is their best interest. In this scenario, our blighted, industrial neighborhood needs help and we'd have to be stupid to say no thanks.

The development team introduced themselves with their credentials. If any one of them said thank you to the considerable crowd gathered for making time to show up, it doesn't stand out in my memory. At one point, the tone was such, the Steering Committee Chair paused to remind the presenters that while they were being paid for doing their jobs, the rest of us were on our own time. 

In fact, the room was full of visionaries. In my experience, this is a very open-minded neighborhood. We are urban dwellers by choice and we believe in our city. We also have big ideas about what is possible.

A bird in hand is better than two in the bush?

Sometimes you take what you can get. The proposal isn't all bad. Row housing along East Mifflin is an attractive alternative to the defunct Madison Dairy Building. But, that doesn't make this whole package a good fit.

What do I actually want to see? 

The Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Plan, adopted in 2008 and the result of years of research, visioning, and hard work, is really awesome. Neighbors were surveyed, experts were consulted, and our forward-thinking community members outlined strategies for preserving what is great about this place and working with the public and private sectors to make it even better.

This plan is visionary and sound. Neighbors today are echoing the same calls for medium-density residential buildings, enhancing the culture with revitalization projects suited to the history of the place, and maintaining a growing tax base of owner-occupied homes around the school.

Today, as in 2008, people choose to live here, and invest in fixing up "older housing stock," because we value the "small town atmosphere" that is in a historic, central location.

From the first paragraph of the introduction to the plan, and a sentiment that is restated throughout: It is a neighborhood that strives to maintain a diverse population, a variety of housing opportunities, and a high quality of living for all of its residents.

A large music venue without adequate parking in a residential neighborhood next to an elementary school does not meet our standards.

The first section of the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Plan is the vision and goals for Land Use. The redevelopment along East Washington Avenue is a major goal, specifically to bring "employment, services, and more residents to the neighborhood. Due to the proximity of residential blocks to these redevelopment areas, we discourage commercial/industrial uses that due to noise or pollution are not compatible with nearby residential use."

The plan then goes on to say that whenever redevelopment opportunities arise, property owners, City staff, and neighbors will ensure that plans "enhance neighborhood stability" and "be compatible with neighborhood character and needs." 

The Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Plan includes two pages that specifically address the 1000 block and make clear What We Want:

  • The maximum façade height along East Mifflin is 3-stories
  • Taller building should have varied rooflines and setbacks to maintain a rhythm of visual breaks and openings.
  • Residential development, such as row houses ( with individual street-level access that takes advantage of the proximity to Lapham School and Tenney Park.
  • “Big Box” scale retail is not acceptable for this area.
  • It is critical that new buildings respect the existing scale of the neighborhood.
  • Development should incorporate an alley to accommodate delivery trucks and “keep commercial truck traffic off of Mifflin Street.”

A few important things have happened since 2008, so I would add these things to My Personal List of Critical Points to Consider:

Bikes are part of the solution: New development should preserve, and even enhance, the new Mifflin Street Bike Boulevard. It is an asset to the neighborhood transportation plan and a resource in the larger vision for high-quality urban living that makes people want to live in the new developments. The developers, especially if they seek to amend the TIF district so this project qualifies, need to spend money to improve the Bike Boulevard.

Trees = happy people: Remember that our urban forest is about to take a huge hit. We have many ash trees along East Mifflin, East Dayton, and the cross-streets, that will be felled by the Emerald Ash Borer and the City’s axes. All new development should include shade trees and generous landscaping.

Community is where people want to be: Crossing East Washington, by foot or by bike, is currently terrifying. For any real revolution to take place in the Cap East District, we all need to be able to cross East Washington Street. Safely. Kids, older folks, slower folks, distracted folks on phones and chatting with friends after an event. It’s not safe now and that is not friendly. I want to see this addressed, and I think the developers need to push for it, alongside residents.

Hold the Vision: There Are Other Ways to do Things

Not a single person I’ve spoken with hates music. In fact, everyone to a person has been pro-music. The problem is with the location, the scale, and the consequences this will have on traffic, parking, and the culture of the neighborhood.

After the official meeting ended, I stayed and talked with the members of the Frank family who were seated in the room among neighbors. Frank Productions would operate the proposed music venue.

They were respectful and friendly, and I was glad to meet them as real people. Larry Frank said he sees the music venue as a positive for the neighborhood, and that he imagines kids who are exposed to music in this way may grow up to have careers in entertainment. He also said he'd like to work with kids, do programs with the schools, stuff like that. It was vague. I like this idea, so asked if he'd started those conversations. He responded that he hadn't because he didn't want to leave folks disappointed. He needed the venue first.

And this made me think. If a local, family-run successful music business wanted to give back to their home community, it would feel quite different. 

If those conversations were happening with schools, with MSCR, with the Wil-Mar Center and others, and these visions for a much-needed boon in music education were central, the neighbors would surely support whatever type of music venue would suit those needs while also being an economically viable business endeavor. We deserve that. Our kids do, too. 

The Franks, and the developers, need to listen. They are working to push a huge rock up a steep hill, and they are bound and determined to prove to us we want the rock. I'm pretty sure I don't want this big rock, but I know there are other gorgeous stones still to be unearthed.

Email Alder Zellers and David Waugh, Steering Committee Chair, with any thoughts and ideas.


  1. The Urban Design Commission meeting is actually tomorrow. Wed Oct 15th at 4:30. 215 MLK BLVD.

  2. Thank you, Jesse. The UDC meeting on Wednesday this week is a chance for the development proposal to be presented, but no decision will be sought or made. They say they'll aim for approval for the UDC in November. Thanks for this point of clarification!

  3. One thing that stuck out for me at the Tuesday night meeting was the lack of attention to detail. I am still digesting the meeting.
    We have been stuck on parking and traffic as root causes, but those issues are a symptom of Stonehouse's lack of attention to detail. They don't understand that their development is going to wipe out all parking on the 10 block of N. Ingersoll and that this dramatically affects their would be neighbors across the street who have no other parking options. Small detail but big affect for the neighborhood.
    Their traffic study was touted as a worst case scenario, but showed available parking in areas that are no parking zones.
    What happens on Thursdays and Fridays on the Isthmus from May 15th to November 15? No parking on one side of the street. from 8:00 am to 1200 pm. That dramatically affects parking for residents of the neighborhood, and will affect parking during the events. Was that taken into account?
    What happens to available parking spaces in February when our streets are three or four feet narrower because of snow? Are patrons going to walk a mile to the show when it is -10°F with the wind chill?
    Details, those silly little things.
    John Lichtenheld said they needed 365 parking spaces for a typical concert and 760ish for a capacity concert; the numbers make sense to me. Frank should be held to provide adequate onsite parking for the average show. Don't push the liability and responsibility of the venue patrons onto the neighborhood and other nearby land owners.
    Frank Productions has already increased the high end estimated number of shows per year by 25%. Can we trust that once the venue is built they won't increase it even more?
    Justifying the traffic increase by comparing it to a 3 day summer neighborhood festival on the south side of E. Washington is not a valid argument. The impact on the north side of the street is minimal because there is ample parking on the south side, because it is summer and people like biking and walking. Move La fete de marquette to Reynolds park and let's see how things work out in the neighborhood.
    Like I said, I am still digesting, but my gut is telling me Stonehouse is the wrong developer for this project; it also says Frank Productions picked the wrong site.

    1. Thanks Nick. There is a lot to digest here, I agree, and this all has huge consequences. I brought up property values at that meeting, which made folks uncomfortable. I understand; it was hard for me to say. But I think we need to proceed as thoughtfully as possible, so put it all on the table. Details matter.

  4. Jessica,

    Thank you for your additional comments and for attending the steering committee meeting. I apologize if you didn't hear it but the first thing I did when I started my presentation was thank the steering committee. In addition, at the end of the meeting all the presenters thanked everyone in attendance. This is not our first time working with the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood and we all appreciate the time and commitment that it takes to attend these meetings. A couple comments on your post:

    - No one implied that the neighborhood was blighted. We were specifically referring to the Madison Dairy site, which, except for the CarX property, is the very definition of blight. The buildings and grounds are vacant and deteriorating and they remain dark and "unactivated" 24/7.

    Thank you for mentioning the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood plan. As you point out, our project fits nicely into the goals for the 1000 block:

    - By providing much needed high quality affordable housing, we will further the goal to “maintain a diverse population, a variety of housing opportunities, and a high quality of living for all of its residents” which is, as you point out, stated right in the introduction to the plan. I am sure that it will not be news to point out that housing opportunities for low to moderate income individuals are getting fewer and fewer. The last affordable housing developments on the isthmus were our City Row and Park Central projects. Between these two, we have over 1,000 people on waiting lists - people that want to live on the isthmus, in your neighborhood, that cannot afford to.

    - Our façade height on Mifflin is 3 stories and we comply with the 30 degree stepback requirement for the 4th floor.

    - We are incorporating step-backs into the housing and into the office venue as desired in the plan.

    -Our housing will be “row-style” housing. Ground floor apartments on Mifflin St. will have private entrances and porches, similar to both Park Central and City Row.

    - We are not proposing “big box retail”.

    - By maintaining the 3 story façade on Mifflin, we are respecting the scale of the surrounding neighborhood. The proposed buildings on E. Washington are also consistent with the adopted plans.

    - By incorporating a 2-way alley behind the housing, we will “accommodate delivery trucks” and “keep commercial truck traffic off of Mifflin Street” as is stated in the plan.

    Finally, I am glad you had a chance to meet and talk to the Franks. They are a family-owned business that has been in Madison for over 40 years. They have an outstanding reputation in the industry as well as with the City of Madison and the police department. They know how to run a venue like this so that it will be an asset to the neighborhood and to the city for years to come. In fact, as presented at the meeting, we are already working on a “memorandum of understanding” wherein the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood can work together with the Franks and Stone House Development to address any issues that may arise from the operations and management of the music hall. The MOU would include details about how the music venue would serve the needs of neighborhood organizations, including the school, to support community events and music programs.

    I think if you take the time to do your own research, you will find that the Franks are indeed the “right company for your neighborhood”.

    - Stone House Development

    1. Thank you, Rich, for reading. I have been doing a lot of research, as you can tell, and my understanding continues to evolve.

      I truly love living and raising my kids in an urban, historic place. I am excited about changes that will bring vitality to my neighborhood.

      At the meeting on Monday evening with the Steering Committee, your passion for this project was clear. I respect that you believe in it, and appreciate that. Again, thanks for your comment, and for continuing to listen to the neighborhood's concerns.

    2. Richard:

      Did you read the neighborhood plan, because it seems to me that this music venue is not a fit with the neighborhood plan. It's a big box, in the sense that the design looks inspired by a 1980's Walmart store.

      Stonehouse is defending the nature of this project on all the positives which is fair and those things are positive, but the music venue is a total outlier here in that it is not a need of the neighborhood. It will have a huge negative impact for the neighborhood both in terms of traffic and in terms of loud late-night activity.

      Also, as far as I can tell, there is no significant support from anyone who lives near the venue. The only support for this stems out of support for affordable housing. If there is going to be a MOU between the neighborhood association, it should be laid out sooner than later, and it should include something along the following:

      - free parking in the lot for any show with pre-sales above 600 people, so that the incentive is for people to park in the lot and not in the street.
      - an absolute cap of 1200 people for 97 percent of events at the venue.
      - maximum of two shows a year with a capacity of 2000 people.
      - restricted parking for any venue usage.
      - free usage by the school for events

    3. Richard,
      Right for the neighborhood is a matter of opinion. So far the treatment of the neighborhood by the Frank's doesn't jive with being right for the neighborhood. Starting with the breaking of the news prior to meeting with the neighborhood, and more recently the treatment of our neighbors at the latest steering committee meeting. There is a lack of respect on their part. No amount of research can change that.