There is nothing quite like the building boom that has taken hold of the central part of Madison. People who have lived in the city for many years, or served in one capacity or another in local government cannot recall a time when so may projects are either underway, or at some point in the planning process. That speaks volumes for the energy and vitality of downtown Madison and what the isthmus and the near East Side offers for people who want to live here, and those who come to the shows and restaurants that dot the area.
But with growth comes the responsibility of making sure the city and developers get the projects designed so they are harmonious one with another, and do not create local frictions when none need exist.
First, and foremost the downtown area is growing and changing. That can be unnerving for some, but if done with thought the end result can add much to the existing community and enhance overall life for residents. That could happen at the proposed East Wilson location for a new high-rise apartment complex.
But as I read the last portion of a news report I had to consider what my feelings would be if this were proposed in my backyard.
On the McGrath project, another issue was a city recommendation to change the building’s HVAC system from (127) individual “wall pack” units in each apartment to a more expensive central system. The issue revolves around having utility intake and exhaust visible from 127 units outside of a high-profile downtown building.
Meeting that city condition could add $1 million in costs to the project while also reducing the square footage of rentable space. But the Urban Design Commission last week approved the project with those wall pack systems so that issue may no longer be on the table.
There is no way the city should allow in one of our new development projects the most unsightly boxes of AC units to deter from the other well designed condominiums located on either side of this proposed building. At a time when the city is ‘thinking green’ and seeking ways to make for better use of resources there can be no justification for not forcing developers to provide central air. Anyone who lives near the lake and understands what humidity is in the summer knows the value and importance of central air. Given the confines of an apartment and lack of air flow among windows is yet another reason to make sure there is central air. If one wants to keep the apartments at a rental rate so to insure economic viability and all that comes with it, thereby further reducing the fears of condo owners over lower property values, central air needs to be installed.
My mentioning of the HVAC system in no way means that condo owners do not have larger concerns about a 14-story apartment building alongside their homes. Some of the concerns seem quite sincere. But when I read about the AC system it struck me as so horribly dealt with by the developers that it looked like a place where reason could wipe away the problem and show the resolve of those pushing the plans to make right with condo owners. It is often with such steps that larger issues then can be better compromised with and all parties can feel better about any eventual deal.
The debate about high density housing is not new, and not over in this city. We are at the tipping point, I suspect, in allowing the concept to take control, and in many ways I approve and applaud the move. But as we move along it should be noted that with small tweaks and compromises developers can make for better buildings and less contentious neighbors.