Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Edgewater plans in hot water

I'm a little late to the game here, but I've been in the wild throes of moving to a new homestead in the last week, so I have an excuse.

Anyway, the game I'm a little late to is the debate over the planning process for the proposed Edgewater Hotel expansion and development. It has been fascinating, if somewhat confusing, to watch the slings and arrows being launched back and forth across the ol' interwebs between some of Madison's heaviest hitters.

Isthmus. Brenda Konkel. Paul Soglin. Mayor Dave. All of them have weighed in via the binary to express their concerns and dismissals of others' protestations. It's been a bit like watching a political game of pong.

The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation is gravely concerned about a proposed $107 million expansion of the Edgewater Hotel. And not just about preservation....There may be reasons that the project developer, Hammes Company of Brookfield, is being secretive. It's engaged in what appears to be unreported lobbying. It's created a lobby group to back the project and what seems to be a dummy-front neighborhood organization. It's built questionable alliances with the mayor and Downtown Madison Inc.
So, let's recap. A developer has an idea that will reinvigorate a landmark hotel, add needed rooms to help our tourism and convention industry and bring more resources into the community, add value to bolster city tax rolls, dramatically increase public access to the lake and create lots of jobs. And he had the gall to ask to meet with the mayor to talk about it… several times. Isthmus portrays this as the crime of the century. I guess I was supposed to tell him to take a hike.
Is that a joke? Do people believe that is 225 public meetings about the project? Or is that what they are supposed to believe? Is that how that is going to be spun? I mean, who took the time to count those meetings and for what purpose? I'd be interested in finding out how many of those 225 meetings were with Capital Neighborhoods or the Mansion Hill Neighborhood Association or public meetings.
Opponents to projects are not required to post every meeting and invite the developer. The opponents are not required to open up the discussion every time they meet or place a phone call to an alder.

Hammes spent months quietly seeking support from political and business leaders in the neighborhood, adjusting and refining plans along the way.

But the approach has disturbed some, who say Hammes selectively shared information and hasn’t resolved concerns about the height of the proposed tower, the effect on the nearby Mansion Hill Historic District, the view of Lake Mendota — protected by city ordinance — and traffic, noise and parking concerns.

I'm certainly of the opinion that a lot of transparency is needed when discussing major developments such as this - especially when we're talking about lakeside property. Issues such as erosion and run-off need to be taken into greater consideration when construction is being done right along the water. And I'd hate to see yet another tall building put up along the shore, further obstructing public views and access to the lake that are already severely limited.

Just as troubling, however, are those 225 meetings Konkel mentioned in her post and further scrutinized by Isthmus. Mayor Dave did little to directly address the concerns that were raised about alleged unregistered lobbying time, opting instead to simply brush off all concerns with a casual dismissal.

I honestly couldn't tell you what the truth is or whether or not anything truly nefarious is going on behind closed doors. What I can say is that the various parties involved in the process are handling things pretty poorly. Urban infill projects like the Edgewater have a great deal of potential in helping to cut down on sprawl, provide mixed-use space, and bring in more jobs and revenue. I'm all for that. But you can't just throw those words out into the aether and hope they'll stick without doing due diligence.

That is, make the process open to public input from the start. No quiet deals. Adhere to well-established and beneficial statutes that regulate the height of downtown buildings, greener building techniques, and public access to the lake shore. Madison has a pretty decent history of doing just that, and it's made this the city that I fell in love with after just 5 minutes of my first visit back in '99. I'd hate to see that ethic chipped away at.

And for heaven's sake, regardless of how you feel about people's opinions on the matter, don't simply toss their concerns aside without adequately explaining yourself. I suspect that most of the involved players want what's best for the neighborhood and the city. We can only get that by being more honest with one another.

(photo by readerwalker on Flickr)


ajpu said...

...eloquently put... nothing to add. (except that my "word verification" is "decapork"... wtf?)

Emily said...

Decapork...maybe a potential band name?

The Lost Albatross