Deserved or not, Madison has a reputation of being hostile to developers. Exhibit A cited by people who hold this view is the rough time the Edgewater Hotel renovation had getting approved.
It led former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz to call for an overhaul of the development process. This in turn inflamed the power struggle between developers and neighborhood groups. Ald. Marsha Rummel called two large summits for neighborhood groups to make sure they weren't left out.
The result of those meetings is coming to the Common Council for a vote next Tuesday, in a report recommending changes to the development process.
Early, radical suggestions have been tossed out of the report, including consolidating the Plan and Urban Design commissions. "Can you imagine being on that consolidated body?" asks Rummel, who sits on both anyway. "You'd have to meet every week." Also scrapped was a proposal to make it easier for the council to overrule the Landmarks Commission - it currently needs a two-thirds vote to do so.
But many small tweaks remain. "Most of the other changes are incremental rather than fundamental changes," says Ald. Mark Clear. "This is a process of gradual improvement."
Many suggestions involve improving communication - both to developers about how the process works and to residents about what is going on. "Redundancy is good," Rummel says. "People don't always find out about what's going on."
Even when they do hear about projects early on, she says, residents often don't hear about changes made to projects as they work their way through city committees.
Alders each have a $600 budget to mail notifications to constituents, but Rummel notes that one or two big projects could easily consume that. The report suggests making projects easier to find on the city's website, so neighbors can track changes.
Despite the suggested improvements, even the generally pro-development Clear thinks Madison's anti-development rep is overblown: "I never really bought into that premise. But I did agree that there were things about the process that were at best confusing and at worst made it really difficult."