At the end of an exhausting seven-hour meeting Tuesday night, the Madison Common Council narrowly approved a controversial demolition and construction project proposed by St. Francis House Episcopal Student Center on University Avenue, garnering the 15 votes required for approval.
The project needed approval from three-quarters of the council because a protest petition against the proposal has been filed with the city.
Dozens of speakers lined up for and against the proposal (PDF) that calls for construction of an eight-story student high-rise at 1001 University Ave. The project would require relocating the 1929 St. Francis house and chapel and demolishing the 1965 church addition.
The proposed project by the Episcopalian church is opposed by its neighbor, Luther Memorial Church, which is concerned about the project's aesthetic impact on University Avenue and what effect it would have on Luther Memorial's membership base.
The contentious debate has sparked jokes about a "religious war."
Al Larson, council president for Luther Memorial, said Tuesday night the Common Council should consider Luther Memorial's landmark status, zoning standards, "neighborly cooperation" and the preservation of St. Francis.
Larson said one of Luther Memorial's main concerns is that the proposed high-rise would cast shadows on Luther's stained-glass windows during morning services.
Luther Memorial member Jay Suthers said another new nearby project, the Grand Central student high-rise, which the St. Francis proposal is designed to mimic, has already made the area more noisy.
"Residents are concerned about additional noise -- there's noise from Grand Central at all hours of the day and night," Suthers said. "The new proposed development will be right along the stained glass windows of Luther Memorial, which will offer little protection against these noises and disrupt services, weddings, funerals and so forth."
The project's developer, Randy Bruce, said the group has already scaled back the project by reducing the original 12-story plan to its currently proposed eight stories.
Bruce also said the developers have run extensive shadow surveys indicating that shadows won't be present after 9 a.m. during the greater portion of the year, and after 8 a.m. during the summer months.
University of Wisconsin law student Bryce Cummings said the council also had to consider the positive impacts the project would have on student life on the UW campus.
Cummings, who lives in Grand Central this year, said its location allows him to feel safe walking home from classes and socializing with friends late at night. He also said Grand Central provides students affordable housing close to university buildings.
After public discussion closed, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, proposed an amendment that would make council approval contingent on the requirement that property managers adhere to city Engineering Division suggestions about moped parking spaces. Verveer said he was most concerned about creating moped parking near the building.
While some opponents expressed concerns that the project does not fit with the city's comprehensive plan for the area, city planner Brad Murphy said the proposal is in line with city expectations.
And Ald. Chris Schmidt, District 11, said he voted in favor of the project when it came before the Plan Commission because the city has to look closely at its requirements despite public controversy.
"We have to stick to the standards we have in front of us, which can be difficult for projects where we have such passionate feeling on both sides," Schimdt said. "To that end, I did find the project is compatible with the nature of the area."
Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, who has been at the center of the controversy because the project is in his district, said the block has a very unique mission and is an "integral" part of the community.
He said the area could be used to bring students closer to campus and to downtown, and urged council members to vote in favor of the proposal.
"It's a development that really will define our campus area for the next 25 years and help the city with the many difficult tasks we are faced with," Resnick said. "A delay won't find us a compromise here. We really have the issues at hand, and I don't believe that this has the substantial impact on Luther Memorial that has been described."