After two hours of public comment, last night’s Common Council meeting covered everything from medians, to the Police Civilian Oversight Board, to even the controversial destruction of a local church.
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, which sits at 2165 Linden Avenue on the city’s east side, is slated for demolition, with a new apartment building to be built in its place.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the church initially reached out to the development company Threshold Development to look at selling the church due to money issues. They agreed that, in place of the church, the company could build a three-story apartment building at the site, offering around 30 apartments. The church has given their blessing to the demolition of the church, and the building of the new apartment building. The congregation merged with Lakeview Moravian Community Church last year.
The item led to almost an hour of discussion, the longest of any item discussed at last night’s meeting. There was vocal opposition to the project from area residents, objecting to everything from aesthetics of the building as compared to the rest of the neighborhood, to the desire for more single-family homes. Overwhelmingly though, last night’s public comments were filled with people concerned about the precedent set by building an apartment building in the area.
Barbara Becker is a resident in District 15, near the church.
“As someone who has lived in their house for over 40 years, I’m wondering why there’s more consideration being given to increasing density in an area that doesn’t support it in the infrastructure than to the people who have sustained the neighborhood for so many years,“ Becker says.
But Alder Grant Foster says that the apartment building is needed for the area.
“From my perspective, this is absolutely an excellent project, through the year long project, it’s very much context sensitive, it really fits in with the neighborhood, it is a great opportunity to add some much needed housing, and has done so really thoughtfully,” Foster says.
Foster also noted that three of the six properties immediately surrounding the church have voiced their support for the new plan.
The decision to demolish the church, and to allow the building of an apartment building, passed on a 15 to 4 vote.
Another controversial issue at last night’s meeting was the plan to convert around 14% of the city’s medians with planted beds to either concrete or turf.
Originally, the plan was to alter or remove 110 planting beds, but that number was later reduced to 90. As previously reported, the move to alter the medians stems from budget cuts.
Ultimately, the amendment to replace the planted beds failed by a 13 to 6 vote, as budget amendments need a three-quarter vote to pass.
The council also last night voted to begin the process of building a new water treatment system to remove PFAS chemicals from Well 15, which has been shut down for years due to a concentration of PFAS chemicals right at the safety standard set by the state health department.
Under the resolution, the city would contract with the nationwide engineering firm AECOM to design a treatment facility for Well 15.
That resolution was passed by a unanimous vote.
Finally, the city voted to remove a so-called racial quota for members of the Police Civilian Oversight Board from city ordinance.
The board was established in 2020 after years of discussion. When the council created the board, it wrote into city ordinance that the board must contain at least one Black, Asian, Latino, Native American, and LGBTQ member. Additionally, the council also adopted an ordinance to have at least half of the board members be Black.
That requirement is the subject of a civil rights lawsuit against the city, filed byl conservative local blogger and former local politician Dave Blaska, who is represented in the case by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, or WILL, a conservative legal firm. WILL told WORT last month that they would be willing to drop the lawsuit if the language is changed, and if the city pays Blaska attorney’s fees and damages.
City Attorney Michael Haas told WORT last month that the current makeup of the board would not change.
“The proposed ordinance would slightly change the language that the city council originally passed governing how members of the Civilian Oversight Board are appointed. Essentially what it does is take out a requirement that members come from different racial backgrounds, and changes that language to say the city will strive to obtain membership of individuals of those backgrounds,” Haas says.
That ordinance change was passed with a unanimous vote.
Photo courtesy: City of Madison