Marsh Shapiro doesn't know what he did to attract the scrutiny of the Madison fire marshal. But he's not taking it lying down.
At the end of June, Shapiro was told to give architectural documents - which he says will cost a couple of grand - for his restaurant, the Nitty Gritty, to the fire marshal's office. These would be used to determine capacities for each of the bar's floors and its outdoor seating area (Madison.gov, 7/16/09).
"I don't have any idea what their motive is," Shapiro says. "But if they're going to do this, why didn't they do it for everybody, for all the bars in the city of Madison? Why aren't they doing it for every department store?"
Shapiro didn't deliver the documents within the required 60 days. Neither, it turns out, did any of the 11 other restaurants asked to do so, according to Madison Fire Marshal Ed Ruckriegel. On Sept. 1, the businesses were sent a second letter, threatening fines if they don't comply within 20 days.
Shapiro responded by filing a massive records request, seeking any documents or memos regarding how it was determined who got the letters; information regarding the international fire code and how it was interpreted; and documents regarding violations of load capacity.
"Who was on the committee that dreamed up this idea?" Shapiro wonders. "I don't want to be the bad guy, but I'm questioning how this all came about."
Shapiro suspects it's being done at the behest of the central Community Police Team and officer Carrie Hemming, who regularly assess capacity levels during bar checks. (See "On the Bar Beat," 7/09/09.)
Ruckriegel says the 12 establishments that were asked for architectural plans are all downtown. (The others are the Stadium, Johnny O's, Frida Mexican Grill, Madison Avenue, Blue Velvet, the Casbah, the Kollege Klub, the Church Key, the Orpheum, Vintage Spirits & Grill and Brothers.) But, he adds, there's no crackdown afoot.
"It's pretty simple," he says. Letters were sent to establishments that "have come onto our radar for various reasons. It could be a single police call. It's not that we have to get the bad guy under control."
Ruckriegel adds that the businesses on the list each had at least two separate areas for which city staff was unable to determine capacity.
Shapiro is waiting to get the information before deciding whether to comply. The overall capacity at the Nitty Gritty is 400, and Shapiro says he's never been cited for overcrowding. He says packing too many people in is bad for business.
And, he wonders, since the city set the original capacity for his building, "Why don't they just send someone down and set the new capacity?"
Death to Miffland?
Some dramatic changes could be in store for one of the city's most iconic arteries: West Mifflin Street.
In drafting the downtown plan (which is a guide for development), the city's planning department is considering two alternatives for the area, known for old houses that have been carved up into student apartments and the annual pre-finals keg party each spring. One idea would leave the area as it is. The other would let the houses be razed to make way for four- to six-story buildings.
William Fruhling, a city planner, described the second concept to a Capitol Neighborhoods meeting of about 20 people last week as "warehouse-type buildings with a lot of windows, higher ceilings." Fruhling says loft-type buildings would act as a transition from the taller buildings across Broom Street.
But, Fruhling stressed, "These aren't recommendations. These are concepts. We want people to discuss and react to them."
The reaction last week was mostly negative. "Why can't we preserve what we've got until there really is some need" for a high-density development, asked Bob Holloway, who lives in nearby Metropolitan Place Condominiums.
Ald. Mike Verveer agreed: "I am troubled by some recommendations laid out for your neighborhood. This cherished, cute little neighborhood could be going the way of the dinosaurs."
Historic house still standing
The historic Anderberg house and its less-famous sibling at the Drumlin Farm in Fitchburg may have gotten a reprieve from the wrecking ball last week.
Fitchburg Mayor Jay Allen had previously told Isthmus the city was powerless to stop the Alexander Company from demolishing the house ("Drumlin Farm's Days May Be Numbered" 09/04/09).
But last week on his blog, the mayor wrote, "Our ordinance requires that demolition must commence within six months or the permit lapses," which means the permit expired in July. Last week, the Fitchburg Common Council toughened its demolition requirements, which now call for the Plan Commission to "review the historical significance of the structure to be demolished" and state that the applicant "provide a detailed plan for the reuse of the property."
Company president Joseph Alexander believes the permit is still good, but adds, "It's certainly not our practice to get into lawsuits with the city where we do business."
And Alexander says his company is still willing to sell Anderberg house, for a dollar, to the city of Fitchburg or the Fitchburg Historical Society, so long as they move it.