MNA Opposes 702 Williamson Development

Letter to Landmarks says height does not conform to BUILD II plan

The proposed six-story multi-family and commercial development at 702 Williamson. Courtesy: The Rifkin Group, LTD.

The proposed six-story multi-family and commercial development at 702 Williamson. Courtesy: The Rifkin Group, LTD.

The Marquette Neighborhood Association is opposing the height of a proposed commercial and multi-family development at 702-706 Williamson Street. The Rifkin Group, Ltd., which owns the current structure on the property is seeking permission from the City of Madison to demolish the building and build a six story one in its place with commercial use on the first floor and sixty (60) apartments above.

As with its central objection to the height of the 722 Williamson project, MNA said in a letter to the Landmarks Commission that the massing of the proposed buildings on this block do not fit within the BUILD II plan created by the neighborhood and threatens to block out residential views of the capitol building.

The proposed demolition and development is on the agenda for this afternoon’s (May 5) City of Madison Landmarks Commission meeting.

702 Williamson was built in 1926 with a facelift in 1950.

702 Williamson was built in 1926 with a front facade added in 1950s.

MNA argues that at 72 feet, the proposed building would be two stories taller than the Olds Building (54 feet) at 714 Williamson and twice the height of the McCormick-International Harvester Building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places

“In an effort to protect the historic integrity of Williamson Street, the city-approved BUILD II plan for the 600-1100 blocks of the street limits the height of new construction on the site in question to 5 stories or 54 feet, whichever is lowest…The new zoning code assigns the category Traditional Shopping Street (TSS) to the 702-6 Williamson site. The stated height limit for this category is 3 stories, with the provision that Building height exceeding the maximum may be allowed with conditional use approval.” — MNA Letter to the Landmarks dated May 5, 2014.

The building that The Rifkin Group seeks to demolish was built in 1926 and its Williamson Street frontage received an upgrade in the 1950s. Because it is located in the Third Lake Historic District, any demolition permit must be carefully considered. The one-story brick building was industrial in origin and features a low curving roof toward the rear of the property.

MNA is concerned that the height of the proposed building would block out capitol views from the 700 block of Jenifer Street.

MNA is concerned that the height of the proposed building would block out capitol views from the 700 block of Jenifer Street.

In an April 30, 2014 Planning Division staff report prepared for Landmarks, staff saw no historical significance to the structure and its demolition would not subtract from the character of the “Visually Related Area”, a key metric when determining historical significance.

The historic nature of the structure is the first part of what Landmarks must consider in granting demolition; the second is what is to be built in its place. To this question City staff felt the proposed building met the standards and would fit well architecturally with the other building in the VRA, however it asked Rifkin to make some small changes to the height of the windows on the top floor as well as the look and type of masonry on the outside of the building.

“The rhythm of solids and voids in the street façade(s) of the proposed building are generally compatible with the buildings in the VRA,” according the staff report.


Landmarks may require that the first floor windows terminate at a low wall like the ones on either side of the entrance to the adjacent Olds Building.

Additionally, to match similarly the design of the adjacent Olds Building, the windows on the first floor must end at a low “solid wall or base” instead of extending all the way to the ground.

The staff also requested that standard or queen style bricks be used on the exterior, however large format masonry may be used on exteriors blocked by other buildings. The report has asked that Rifken bring materials samples to the Landmarks Commission meeting today.

Marty Rifkin, founder & president of The Rifkin Group tells Willy Street Blog that they have changed the project based on suggestions from both Landmarks and MNA, however some of the MNA changes would alter the quality of the project.

“We really appreciate the neighborhood’s input, we actually had a lot of good ideas from them we’ve made changes that meet some of their criteria…they’re wanting more than we can afford to do,” Rifkin said.

Update: [May 6, 2014 -1430 CST]: 1. Landmarks Commission votes 5-1 to approve the project. Marsha Rummel casts lone “No” vote. Plan Commission (5/12/2014) and City Council approvals are next. 2. Corrected name of adjacent building to the McCormick-International Harvester Building.

MNA Letter to City Of Madison Landmarks Commission 5/5/2014


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2 thoughts on “MNA Opposes 702 Williamson Development

  1. I agree the architectural design is out of character with the neighborhood, but that can be adjusted. I’d also like to see it both stepped back and less tall, if it can be realized working with Mr. Rifkin. But I’m less enthusiastic that view preservation should ever be a criteria to oppose a development — with the exception of the height restriction of “not taller than the Capital drum.” This, obviously, isn’t. Just as the Beer Can building has little legitimate right, other than oral persuasion, to hinder a neighboring development that meets the City’s development criteria, the view corridor from homes on Jennifer are immaterial.

  2. Come on Marquette Neighborhood Association. Stop. You oppose this building, you oppose the one a block down, and you oppose Grampa’s Pizzeria opening a cocktail lounge next door to their current building. Just. Stop. Move forward. You don’t get to just do nothing. We need to grow the neighbourhood. That the capitol dome will go missing for a few households looking out their window isn’t a valid excuse.

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