Are you sick of the Edgewater debate yet? Depending on how the City Council votes on an appeal by the Hammes Co. Tuesday night, your weary minds may well get a reprieve.
If the Landmarks Commission decision to deny the project a certificate of appropriateness is upheld, the current incarnation of the plan will effectively be dead in the water.
However, there's an equally good chance that council members will vote to overturn that decision, a move that would not only lead to further approval procedures, but very likely a lawsuit or two. You see, members of the Landmarks Commission have argued that their decision was based entirely on the letter of current law. The redevelopment, as proposed, is simply too big for the historic district.
Tempers on both sides of the issue have been flaring. Mayor Dave, a booster of the project since the beginning, has even gone so far as to make a few ill-advised blog posts lambasting the commission on their decision. I'm not sure, for instance, how his declaration that we can't leave decisions like these up to "a handful of unelected people" squares with his support of a similar body for the RTA.
The Landmarks folks and the Mansion Hill Neighborhood Association have been accused of being anti-progress, elitist, etc. etc. And those against the project have accused the mayor and other supporters of blindly pushing through a building that would end up being as much of an eyesore as the existing structures (like National Guardian Life) that spurred passage of the historic preservation ordinances in the first place.
And of course there's still the issue of the Hammes Co. request for TIF money to help build the hotel. Frankly, that's a debate I'd like to see take place, but it's not likely to happen now.
In general, redeveloping and restoring the Edgewater strikes me as a good idea. A well-executed project could help create jobs, increase tax revenue, boost public access to the lake and beautify a major thoroughfare and sight line downtown.
But Hammes Co. and a few overzealous city officials have really messed things up. First there were the inappropriate, possibly illegal lobbying efforts. Then there were the delayed applications, the required documents that were simply never turned in. Whatever your opinion of Brenda Konkel, former alder and energetic blogger, she's done us all a huge favor by compiling an exhaustive list of what was and was not submitted by Hammes Co. to the council over the last year. I recommend giving it a look to see what I mean.
Perhaps most important to the current debate over the Landmark Commission decision, however, is the lack of clarity about the real size and impact of the proposed addition. Only a few renderings and no 3D model have been made public by Hammes. The neighborhood association had to make one themselves. But why make it so difficult?
Architect and former Zoning Board of Appeals member John Martens took the liberty of using the area and volume numbers provided by the company to work up a realistic representation of just how much space this new hotel would occupy. The results (available in Related Documents) make it clear that the Edgewater would, even after recent compromises, dwarf everything in its vicinity. It puts the Landmarks Commission's vote into far greater clarity.
The fact is, Bob Dunn's plans bump up against a whole slew of zoning laws and he took his sweet time asking for a chance at exemptions. I can't fault the commission, then, for making the decision it made even though I support the basic idea of a renovation.
Mayor Dave, the Mansion Hill Neighborhood Association, Bob Dunn, and everyone else with so much of a vested interest in one outcome or another would do well to take a step back and come back at this with more open minds and forthcoming plans. We could have had a productive, important debate about balancing zoning and historic preservation with development and job creation-but instead we've had people on both sides taking an any means necessary approach to getting what they want. At this point, that means everyone loses.
Quenching a thirst for raw milk
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I was browsing the dairy aisle (looking for something lactose-free, oddly enough) when I noticed an empty shelf and a sign announcing a recall. Blue Marble Dairy, a local-ish provider of organic milk and other related sundries, had apparently run into a "not entirely pasteurized" problem and so product had to be pulled.
I didn't hear anything else about it until Linda Falkenstein's piece on The Daily Page explaining what had happened. After the information about the Department of Agriculture's tests showing that some milk had not been fully pasteurized, the article went on to mention Blue Marble's involvement with the raw milk movement.
What's that, you ask? Some folks claim that raw, unpasteurized milk not only tastes better, but has several extra health benefits. The problem, of course, is that most states have strict laws that ban the sale and even transport of raw milk. That hasn't stopped a sort of underground movement from springing up to cater to its advocates. There's nothing like a ban to make people want something even more.
The big problem is that unpasteurized milk has in the past been known to, well, kill people. There's a very good reason we started using the process so religiously. If not treated and handled properly, it's entirely too easy for the stuff to pick up nasty little things like listeria, salmonella and e. coli:
"From 1998 to May 2005, raw milk or raw-milk products have been implicated in 45 foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States, accounting for more than 1,000 cases of illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
As to raw milk's purported health benefits, it's hard to say. There doesn't seem to be much scientific research to back up the claims, and plenty of problems with bad bacteria and pathogens still exist when you forgo pasteurization.
On the other hand, states that do allow for the sale of raw milk have regulations in place requiring strict oversight of how it's processed and distributed. After all, even the pasteurized product too often comes from incredibly unhygienic and downright cruel industrial farming operations.
Since simply banning raw milk doesn't seem to be doing the trick-and indeed tends to lead to dicey, if well-meaning, operations-it seems to me that creating a strictly regulated trade would be the way to go. Then people who don't live on dairy farms but want to drink raw milk have that option with fewer of the safety concerns. Making it official and creating a uniform standard would help protect farmers and consumers alike.
Bad economy an explanation, not an excuse
I keep reading the gruesome headlines and shaking my head in disbelief: The most recent? A quadruple homicide, possibly one of the biggest mass killings in Dane County history-the result of what was likely a case of extreme domestic violence.
The incident brings the total number of murders related to domestic violence in Dane County this year to seven-a marked increase from last year and the kind of trend you never want to see.
Public officials have speculated that the uptick is at least partially the result of the poor economy. Desperate times can, unfortunately, push some people to desperate-and terrible-measures. And while I don't for a minute doubt or discount the amount of pressure and stress that losing a job or being underemployed can create, it simply does not excuse a turn to violence.
And though the tough times are probably helping to highlight the issue, domestic abuse is not a problem that will go away with better job and GDP numbers.
The sad fact is that we still have a long way to go in preventing these sorts of crimes from happening in the first place, and in providing the right kind of support to those people who survive attack.
Thankfully, we have local organizations like Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS), which work with police to provide a wide-range of support options for people dealing with domestic violence. They do the good but difficult work of dealing with things most of us will be lucky to avoid for any length of time. But domestic violence affects one in four women, which means it's a sad guarantee that either you or someone you know has had to deal with this.
We can't afford to ignore the problem or those people working to address it. According to Shannon Barry of DAIS, Dane County has the smallest domestic violence shelter per capita of any other place in the state. "The state average is 7,500 people/bed and ours is 19,000/bed." That means that with the recent spike in people seeking help, it's hard to find beds for them all. Those shelters can mean the difference between life and death for some women, and it's unacceptable that we don't have the resources to cover them all.
It's even more unacceptable that we live in a society where domestic violence too often goes unreported until the point at which someone pulls a gun and takes a life. The frustrating thing is that some abusers take advantage of media coverage of events like the recent homicides and use it as a threat to keep a person quiet.
But the more we work to educate our children and ourselves about how to spot domestic violence when it's happening, to know that it's never OK, and to stand up and help stop it whenever you can, the less often tragedies will happen.
Barry had this to add:
In terms of how people can help (besides giving us money of course which we always, always need):
- Letting their elected officials know that supporting "public safety" means a lot more than just adding more law enforcement. One third of all arrests are DV related, yet national statistics show that only a quarter of all DV is ever reported to law enforcement. That means there are a lot of survivors out there who are reaching out to services like DAIS, using their informal networks, or never getting help at all. (That being said, we have great relationships with MPD, the Sheriff and other smaller agencies. I think Chief Wray and Sheriff Mahoney really "get" how important advocates like those at DAIS are to a comprehensive system of services to victims and we work very closely with them both.)
- Talking about this and naming it for what it is. The media is getting better about this but I feel like every day people still aren't labeling it. Domestic violence affects one in four women in her lifetime. Therefore, it impacts every single one of us whether we are aware of it or not.
- Reframing the question from "Why doesn't she just leave?" to "Why does he do that?" One of the biggest reasons victims don't leave? They are six times more likely to be murdered when trying to leave than at any other time.
- Advocating for reform at the state level to support more district attorneys and to restructure the pay framework for DA's. Did you know that Dane County needs something like 11 additional full time Assistant District Attorneys just to keep up with their current caseload? There was an audit a couple of years ago that found them to be extremely understaffed. That means that they have to prioritize which cases they will charge and pursue. It is tough to hold batterers accountable with a system that is overworked and underpaid no matter how dedicated and wonderful the people who work there are. (And I am a big fan of Brian Blanchard and his office)
If you or someone you know needs help dealing with domestic violence, please contact DAIS at http://www.abuseintervention.org/ or by calling (confidentially) 608-251-4445.