The four-story mixed-use development with a 30,000-square-foot PCC grocery store at its core will not have to return for a relatively unprecedented fourth round of early design review. The Madison Valley project set to rise where long-loved garden store City People’s stands today won approval to move forward to the second and final round of the city’s design review process Wednesday night. But it was a close call. Meanwhile, the preservation and development project set to create a five-story office and commercial building out of the old Value Village and 11th Ave’s auto row-era past sailed through its final review on the way to construction.
The response to the latest proposal in Madison Valley was much more measured. In sending the project through to the final “recommendation” stage, the board said it would set high expectations for many unanswered questions about the project to be answered before the project can move forward to construction. A wave of opposition from community members and the Save Madison Valley group had helped get the project this far, one board member said.
“A lot of traction has come from community and from the board,” she said.
The board members said they were also moved to push the project from developer Velmeir and architects at Meng Strazzara forward so that information needed to inform other decisions on the development can be gathered. With approval for the recommendation phase, the city can now complete key analyses like an independent traffic study to help sort out whether the garage should be entered from E Madison, Dewey, or both.
CHS reported here on the latest proposal and the ongoing opposition to the project earlier this week. With delays in the development project set to replace it, City People’s will stick around through 2017. The longtime owners of City People’s and its unusually large tract of E Madison land have said the decision to sell came with hope that the partners have put the property into the right hands.
Wednesday night, in addition to neighbors and nearby residents, consultants for Save Madison Valley including former city council member and mayoral candidate Peter Steinbrueck testified against allowing the project to move forward. Steinbrueck specifically targeted a row of townhouses added on the backside of the project as a kind of residential buffer between the 34-vehicle parking garage and the single family-style homes of Dewey Pl E. UPDATE: Steinbrueck has clarified to CHS that his concern about the townhouses was about their small dimensions — a factor he says the board agreed needs more work in the next design — but tells us he believes the addition of the residential features is actually a key area of improvement for the project.
Here is a passage from his prepared statement that hopefully clarifies the nature of his support for the townhouses — and issues with the project as designed:
Bottom line – more housing and less garage is a big improvement. But the lack of depth and superficiality of the townhouse facades—averaging just 11-1/2 feet in depth, combined with the imposing upper level retail and residential facades– with 3 to 4 feet setbacks, read as flat vertical plane towering more than 75 feet above the Dewey Place. The overall effect is that height, bulk, and scale are not sufficiently mitigated to provide a reasonable transition to the block.
A nearby resident said even adding townhouses wasn’t enough during public comments. “I’m here for the third time saying the same thing again,” the exasperated neighbor said. The project is too, big, many of the neighbors who spoke contended and will eliminate a green “urban canopy” on the slope behind City People’s currently rising above Dewey. And the townhouses? “They don’t belong in our neighborhood,” the frustrated neighbor said.
But the board disagreed, saying the townhouses were precisely why the project was ready to move forward after three rounds of preliminary review.
“I think they have done a very good job at responding,” one board member said, adding that the project design has moved “from a large building to a much smaller building scale.”
Not every neighbor who spoke opposed the project. A handful made public comments supporting the development and, they said, representing residents of the neighborhood not at the meeting or speaking out in letters to the board. “We’re not hearing from anybody in the multifamily building across the street,” one neighbor said. “There are other people as well.”
While some of the frustrations of the Madison Valley Group are easy to lampoon as NIMBYism and privilege — especially when the group was again given time by the board to “present” during public comments — even with progress on the project, there are some elements of design review where you have to sympathize with citizens, no matter the backlash. Some neighbors could barely contain themselves over an issue that has come up throughout the proceedings over the project regarding three trees on the property that were deemed to be not exceptional and, therefore, unworthy of preservation — but only because construction would kill them.
Architect Charles Strazzara, meanwhile, also showed signs of reaching a breaking point before the board’s decision to move the project forward. “I understand that change is hard,” he said, generating one of many rounds of groans from the large crowd Wednesday night. “I think I’ve been demonized,” he said. “I don’t make the zoning laws.”
The board’s decision will move the project forward to the recommendation phase, a process that allows the developer to move forward on permitting and will likely mean another round of review sometime this summer.