My Neighborhood Is a Nightmare

Posted September 27th, 2012 @ 10:50 AM by

Politically, that is. My alder, at the last minute and without consultations with anyone, wants to up-zone it tonight at the plan commission . . . which is making me think again what a disaster this situation is. It’s definitely an only-in-Madison situation.

I love my neighborhood, I rented on Butler St. for a year, I rented on Franklin St. for 4.5 years, I bought a house and lived on 500 block of E. Mifflin St. for 11 years and now December will mark 3 years in our new house on Hancocks St. That’s almost 20 years living in a 2 block radius. Needless to say, I love the neighborhood.

I just didn’t live in my neighborhood either, I was president of the neighborhood association for a couple years, have been a member of the neighborhood association since at least 1994, I served as alder for 8 years and now, I’m back as a neighborhood representative for the neighborhood. So, I’ve been a leader in my neighborhood for nearly the whole time I have lived in my neighborhood.

My neighborhood is also pretty painful to deal with. We have 4 representatives to the neighborhood association. Myself, Lupes Montes and . . . Cliff Fisher (developer) and Erik Minton (developer). And our alder is Bridget Maniaci. Of the 5 of us, 3 of us have run for alderperson. Erik ran against me in 2003 (I won by 80%) and then Bridget, of course, defeated me in 2009. Cliff Fisher, every time he drives by my house flips me off. I haven’t really talked to him in years and don’t even know why he hates me, he just does. And he makes every meeting I try to attend unbearable. Lupe Montes was the only one to complain when we had a neighborhood block party to get more people involved. Erik Minton is actually the most pleasant of the bunch to deal with.

Erik Minton is the current president of the neighborhood association. He hasn’t called a meeting since last February. I don’t think he actually even lives in the neighborhood. Nothing gets posted to our neighborhood listserve about meetings. He wasn’t even a member for many months when he got elected president. There is no real will to have a neighborhood association, this whole thing is just about control. About being in a position of power when needed. And perhaps keeping it dysfunctional so that we have no power to speak up for the neighborhood.

It appears, our alder is asking the plan commission to zone our neighborhood higher, so that the buildings can get torn down and we can look like all the new buildings going up in the Bassett Neighborhood. We. are. not. the. Bassett. Neighborhood.

The character of our neighborhood is actually quite diverse, we have everything from 950 sq foot houses to the Butler Plaza (owned by Erik – he also developed the Arcadia and the Odessa.) That is what is kinda cool about it. We also have a few really bad examples of how when you move a house to save it, its doesn’t really fit into the neighborhood, it stands out as being kinda strange. We also had the house that was up on blocks for too long, waiting to be moved. It’s a bizarre, eclectic little area of about 11 blocks that is a transition zone. We’re sandwiched between E Washington and the Johnson/Gorham raceway – but its a little peaceful area with a lot of character and charm. Clearly I believe in it enough to have purchased two homes here. It’s got a ton of potential.

However, our alder doesn’t quite see it that way. Well, maybe she sees potential, but the potential she sees is to tear it down and build more Pinkus McBride projects and Stonehouse (City Row) development projects. Unaffordable housing that is for young professionals like herself. Its not at all what we have talked about for years in terms of development for the neighborhood.

I thought we had kind of settled on the theory that we would build big buildings on East Washington and largely leave the rest of the neighborhood alone and when there was development, whatever was build that was new would have the same mass, character and style as what was there. Front porches, 1 – 3 stories, dense development.

Without having a neighborhood meeting . . .
Without asking the neighborhood representatives . . .
Without sending something to the neighborhood listserve . . .
Without mentioning it at the Capital Neighborhoods meeting . . .
Ignoring the input for the Downtown Plan . . .
Our alder has decided that our neighborhood should be essentially up-zoned.

And, I might add, this meeting to discuss this didn’t get the agenda up until well, 23 hours ago according to my gmail.

date: Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 11:04 AM
subject: [Additions to Weekly Meeting Schedule] Posted on: 9/26/2012 11:04 AM


Date: 9/27/2012 5:30 PM

Here’s the agenda.

There’s tons and tons of documents and unless you have devoted your life to this for the past few years or have a hired lobbyist to track it for you, its not going to make any sense. Here’s the document that they will be discussing. According to someone who was paying attention, this memo came out on 9/21, or just 6 days ago.

Here’s the info we have about it:

14) Subarea 19 – James Madison Park Neighborhood
Alder Maniaci recommended changing the area outlined below from DR1 to DR2. The area recommended for DR1 in this area includes 158 properties on 14.8 acres, and currently has a combination of R5 and R6 zoning. There are a total of 530 units in the area, mostly in single, two, three, and four unit buildings. The recently adopted Downtown Plan recommends maintaining the existing character of the James Madison Park neighborhood. Specifically, Objective 4.10 in the Plan states:

“The James Madison Park neighborhood should accommodate a mix of dwelling units, some of which are suitable to families with children. The renovation of existing houses coupled with selective
redevelopment that generally reflects the scale and rhythm of the existing structures should help reinvigorate the area, provide a variety of housing options (including workforce housing), and
strengthen linkages to the adjacent Tenney-Lapham neighborhood.” [emphasis added]

Staff believe that the DR1 district is a more appropriate designation for achieving this objective. The application of DR1 is consistent with the mapping methodology, as it best represents the existing development pattern. Within the DR1 district, new multi-family buildings with 5-8 units would be reviewed as a conditional use, whereas in the DR2 district, they are a permitted use. Also, DR1 as drafted has a maximum building width (see item #5 of this memorandum), while DR2 does not.

DR1 as recommended would not preclude redevelopment in this area over time, but would ensure conditional use review for buildings with over four units, and may better maintain existing scale and rhythm than would the application of the DR2 district. If future redevelopment proposals consistent with the Downtown Plan require DR2 zoning, a rezoning to DR2 could be requested and considered at that time (this type of request might be easiest to support along North Hamilton, Butler, and Gorham Streets on the northwest edge of the neighborhood, where the Downtown Plan recommends allowing for relatively higher density development).


I’m feeling blindsided, but not surprised. I’m feeling unrepresented, but not surprised. Thanks to the people who have been following this and gave me a heads up a this weekend. But how does an elected official recommend to make this kind of radical change without consulting the neighborhood people who live there, the representatives of the neighborhood association or the neighborhood association members? Wouldn’t you think this would merit a neighborhood meeting?

That is, if our alder had any respect for the people living in the area or wasn’t so arrogant that she didn’t believe she was the only one that knew what is best for us. I ask again, who is she representing? The developers? Or the people who vote for her? (With the 2 notable exceptions – developers largely do NOT live in our neighborhood)

This is not what is right for the neighborhood. It goes against the planning that was recently done for the neighborhood and it ignores years of discussions about these very issues. It’s disrespectful representation of the people who live here. Leave the neighborhood as the staff suggest. I hope the plan commission follows their recommendation.

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