T. Wall Properties’ four-story proposal for the triangle of Park Street and Fish Hatchery Road pleases neighbors. But city officials want something taller, with more retail space.
For more than a decade, the triangular intersection at South Park Street and Fish Hatchery Road has been waiting for a rebirth.
The former Bancroft Dairy site, once billed as the “keystone property” to redevelopment in south Madison, remains a vacant lot.
City planners have long envisioned a major project there, featuring a mix of housing and commercial spaces. A 2005 Wingra BUILD study said the parcel should be transformed into “a landmark, flatiron structure that takes full advantage of the prime location, access and visibility.”
But whether that vision will be realized remains in doubt. Questions about the viability of the retail market along Park Street combined with concerns about the scope of the project have led to a series of starts and stops.
Developer Terrence Wall is now trying to finesse a $15 million project that will meet the city’s desire for more density at the site while also currying favor with the increasingly proactive Bay Creek neighborhood.
The gentrifying south-side neighborhood — which recently pushed back against plans for a four-story apartment project at the site of the Jade Garden restaurant — remains largely opposed to any intensive uses at the dairy site. A survey of residents found that 90 percent want a maximum four-story building there with limited late-night activity.
“Terrence came to us looking for our support for a smaller project,” says Bay Creek resident Carrie Rothburd, who lives near the site. “He’s doing just about everything we’ve asked for.”
Wall purchased the 1.6-acre dairy site in 2015 for $3.5 million, according to city records, and says lenders are reluctant to back an apartment project that might struggle with empty storefronts. T. Wall Properties is planning 156 apartment units in three buildings, the tallest at four stories with an upper-story loft. Structured parking would be provided at a ratio of one stall per unit.
That is far smaller than two previous proposals, including a plan for a pair of five-story buildings with 6,000 square feet of commercial space that was approved by the city council in 2015.
In the new proposal, Wall is also begrudgingly including 1,900 square feet of first-floor commercial space even though he thinks it’s going to be difficult to rent.
Wall maintains there are already 12,000 square feet of vacant space between this triangle intersection and West Washington Avenue.
“You just don’t have the [population] density to support that much commercial space on Park Street,” says Wall. “Maybe in another 10 years, but not right now.”
Representatives from T. Wall Properties went before the Urban Design Commission with the scaled-down plans in November but were rebuffed over the lack of commercial space and the size of the corner building. The commission referred the matter and instructed the developer to make changes.
“The new four-story version does not measure up, nor is it consistent with plan recommendations for this site that date back to 2002,” city planner Tim Parks told the commission. “What is being proposed now is a smaller project in both size and character. In this location, more — rather than less — height and development is desired.’
When the dairy plant closed in 2004, it prompted widespread discussion about what might come next. Some mentioned a hotel that could serve the medical facilities along the Park Street corridor and nearby UW-Madison campus.
Finally, in 2012, UW Health built a four-story clinic and parking ramp on the south end of the site. It left open the most visible piece of the property. City planners continued to push for a six- or seven-story mixed-use project at Park and Fish Hatchery centered around workforce housing and mass transit. But now they seem resigned to a smaller development as long as it includes ground-floor commercial space and some sort of architectural statement at the corner.
Wall has yet to submit final plans or any architectural drawings for the reconfigured project, which is scheduled for another presentation before the city Urban Design Commission on Feb. 22.
Ald. Sara Eskrich, who represents the area, hasn’t taken a formal position on the smaller project, much to the chagrin of some neighbors who’d like to get her on board with Wall’s four-story proposal.
“I take positions on developments only once they arrive at decision-making commissions, in order to engage with neighborhood residents openly and in an unbiased manner,” she says. But she adds that commercial space at street level “is critical to the long-term vibrancy of Park Street.”
Several neighbors have grown excited over talk about having an ice cream parlor occupying ground-floor commercial space in the project, something that would pay homage to the former dairy — without generating bar-time traffic.
“Something like that might actually begin to create the ‘walkable’ Park Street that everybody keeps talking about,” says Rothburd.