722 Willy Working Group Outlines Concerns

MNA committee sends UDC its initial take on proposed development

It is unknown at this point if meetings between a special Marquette Neighborhood Association working group and Baldwin Development Group will yield any changes to a development planned for the 700 block of Williamson Street. The MNA 722 Subcommittee was formed to work through concerns about the project with BDG after the developer signaled it would seek exceptions to building guidelines developed by the neighborhood.

The 722 Williamson Subcommittee, part of MNA’s Preservation & Development Committee, has met several times now with BDG and last week committee chairman Bruce Woods sent a letter to Madison’s Urban Design Commission outlining their initial concerns. The letter gives no indication that BDG was planning any changes based on the discussions. What the letter does do is formalize and organize the varying concerns and plaudits that have been expressed about the design so far. 

The Committee’s main issue is that the development “Does not meet the standards set by the Williamson Street Build II Plan”, which in this case refers to the proposed 10-story height of one of the residential towers. The committee also says the design raises traffic concerns, overshadows the bike path, and needs to use a better criteria for determining affordable housing. In a simpler sense the committee felt, at the moment, the deisgn was not exceptional enough to warrant exceeding the building height defined in the Build II Plan.

Baldwin Development Group's presentation of the visual impact of the 10-story tower. Courtesy: Baldwin Development Group

The SubComm. is concerned about the massing of the development along the bike path.

On the positive side, the committee understands the need for more central housing and density in the neighborhood. The current location is a parking lot and many feel it is underutilized and no demolition would be needed.

This is often a problem with other properties in the neighborhood where structures are often tinged with history. One other positive aspect is that the design basically maintains the industrial brick facades that dominate the 700 block.

BDG Principal Jim Bower, who lived in the neighborhood for 10 years before moving to the Tenney-Lapham, has said repeatedly that neighborhood input in the plan is key. Last month, BDG was slated to give an informal presentation to the UDC, but any comment the Commission may have made has so far been not made available by the City. BDG so far, is not listed on the agenda for the October meeting.  Bower did not respond to a request for comment on the subcommittee meetings.

The Committee is now waiting for BDG to formally present their plan to the Urban Design Commission and for that body to weigh-in on the design. Following notes from the UDC, the committee will meet weekly with BDG to continue to work on the design aspects.

The MNA P&D Committee will hold its monthly meeting at a special time and place this week to hear a presentation from BDG on three variations on the proposal based on input from the committee. The meeting will be held Wednesday October 23 at 4:30 p.m. at 9:45 East Washington Avenue. Attendees are asked to enter from the rear parking lot.


The Subcommittee letter to the UDC is posted below:

722 Williamson Street – Neighborhood Issues with the Development 

The Baldwin Group has met with the neighborhood several times and there is a plan in place to meet with them after the UDC meeting approximately once per week to work out details of the plan.  We are now looking to UDC for their take on the plan and design for this parcel.

Negative aspects of plan

  1. Does not meet several standards set by the Williamson Street Build II Plan:
  • which allows 5 stories plus two bonus stories for excellence in design, structured parking, affordable housing and  should not exceed 85 ft. in height
  • should be a mid-block “urban lane” system
  • Too much massing along bike path corridor.
  1. Insufficient parking for residents would exacerbate parking problems in the neighborhood.
  2. Additional traffic moving into an uncontrolled intersection on Blount St. & Williamson St. as well as Livingston St. & Williamson St.
  3. The proposed design is not so exceptional that it warrants a 10 story building.
  4. Should provide more affordable housing and should use a better criterion for affordable housing.
  5. Green roofs may not be sustainable and may require irrigation.
  6. Concern that lower income families would be priced out of the neighborhood.
  7. The bike corridor is currently planted with prairie that was developed by volunteers and the building will produce too much shade to sustain the prairie.  The lack of sunlight will permit icing on the bike path during winter.  This is addressed in the East Rail Corridor Plan and says, “ shadowing effects of large buildings should be taken into consideration to preserve reasonable access to sunlight”.
  8. Does not engage with the bike path corridor as stated in the Build Plan II.
  9. At 10 stories, this building would be significantly taller than any other building on Williamson Street and in the vicinity.


Positive aspects of plan

  1. Design fits with the Williamson Street facades.
  2. Meets need for housing in central area.
  3. Green elements of plan.
  4. Neighborhood should accept additional density here, should develop here rather than additional  sprawl on the outskirts of the city.
  5. Terraces and step backs open up the design
  6. A higher use for space, currently used for parking, no demolition needed.


Bruce Woods

722 Sub-Committee, Chairman

Update [10/21/2013]: 722 Williamson Subcommittee Chairman clarified to WSB that the letter was sent to the UDC in advance of BDG’s informal presentation last month so that the Commission would know of their concerns.

This post was also changed to reflect the updated agenda of the October 23 meeting. More detail about that can be seen here.

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