On July 13, two applications were filed with the city. One was to nominate 5117 University Ave. as a city landmark. The other was for a permit to demolish the building.
Designed by Wisconsin architect William Kaeser - a mid-20th-century Madison city planner - the building was used for more than 50 years by the late builder Marshall Erdmann as an office and workshop. Last year, the state determined the building was eligible for National Landmarks status, though that status hasn't yet been granted.
"Marshall Erdman was once the nexus of [Wrightian] social life in post-World War II Madison," says Amy Kinast, a Madison resident and historian who nominated the Erdman building for landmark status. "This building is very important to Madison's history."
But if Krupp General Contractors has its way - and many expect that it will - all of the buildings sitting on a 17.5-acre swath of land at the intersection of University Avenue and Whitney Way will be supplanted with a massive mixed-use development to include a UW Health facility, 1,400 parking stalls and a 130-room hotel. The Plan Commission will review Krupp's proposal on Sept. 19, with the city council scheduled to vote on it Oct. 4.
Bill Fruhling, a Madison city planner, says that landmark nominations filed subsequent to a land use proposal typically won't protect a building from demolition.
Not so fast, says Amy Scanlon, the city's preservation coordinator. "That's a nice theory, but the Plan Commission does get to weigh in; they'll be looking at both issues," she says. "This is Madison; anything can happen."
Scanlon, believing Kinast's application has enough momentum to move forward, has put it on the agenda for the Landmarks Commission's Aug. 8 meeting. However, the department she works in - the Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development - doesn't support landmark status for the building.
If the Landmarks Commission supports the nomination, the matter will receive a public hearing. Then, after 30 days for public comment, the commission can either reject the nomination or send it for a vote by the Common Council.
Ald. Mark Clear says the development would increase the city's tax base and create jobs. He questions Kinast's pursuit of landmark status for the Erdman building.
"Her primary motive is to derail the project," he says. "Unfortunately, there's no way to determine frivolous nominations until they go through the process."
Kinast accuses Clear of trying to fast-track the Krupp development with as little public input as possible. In 2010, Erdman Holdings had eyed the building for demolition, and Kinast cites a July 2010 email to city planner Tim Parks in which Clear supported a waiver ending the neighborhood notification process earlier than normal. Erdman shelved the project not long after.
Kinast says she was unaware of Krupp's development plans until recently.
"[Clear] quit putting notices out about meetings," accuses Kinast. "I tried to know what was going on, but the more you know, the less you know."
In the meantime, the two applications will continue along their separate tracks. But Clear worries that one committee or another might not act on Krupp's land use plan, which needs Common Council approval, until the landmark issue is settled.
Should the Common Council approve both plans, the Landmarks Commission would need to issue a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition to proceed.
Some say the odds of that happening are slim. "It's a legal possibility, but not a practical possibility," says Stu Levitan, a historian on the Landmarks Commission.
What if the process reaches that point and the commission does exercise its veto authority?
"That decision can be appealed to the council," says Clear. "We saw what happened with the Edgewater. I think we want to avoid another situation like that."
[Note: A quote from Amy Kinast was amended to reflect context.]