Lothlorien gets a new lease on life. The move by MCC ends a year and a half of uncertainty and conflict over its fate.
Nick Simmons is ecstatic. If everything goes as planned, in a few months he will be moving back into the Lothlorien housing co-op, the massive house on the shore of Lake Mendota that burned in September 2013, leaving 34 people temporarily homeless.
“I look forward to swimming in the lake, to replanting our vegetable garden and raspberry bushes, to cooking dinner and eating it on the picnic tables in the backyard,” Simmons writes in an email. “And I especially look forward to those kitchen-table conversations.”
Last weekend, members of Madison Community Cooperative — which includes 11 housing co-ops, including Lothlorien — voted to rebuild the damaged house. The move ends a year and a half of uncertainty and conflict over its fate.
Taylor Kestrel, MCC’s membership officer, says although the vote has yet to be certified, members appear to have approved rebuilding by a vote of roughly 100 to 20. Kestrel says construction could start next month, with people moving back in as soon as Aug. 15.
After the 31-unit house — located at 244 W. Lakelawn Place in the historic Langdon neighborhood — burned, the board contemplated selling the property, valued at approximately $1.6 million. Rebuilding costs were first estimated to be over $1 million, fueling a push to sell and using the funds to buy property elsewhere. But others wanted the group to hold onto the land.
Debate over what to with the house sparked a crisis within the group, with some houses withholding rent in protest. MCC’s paid staff first went on strike and eventually quit.
Kestrel believes the Lothlorien dispute was more a symptom of dysfunction with the group than the cause. “The Loth fire operated as a polarizing force,” Kestrel says. “I feel like it’s complicated in terms of why staff left and where the conflict is.”
MCC is still in the process of rehiring a full-time staff, Kestrel says.
In recent months, a few things have changed to make renovating Lothlorien seem more feasible. MCC got new estimates for renovation, with the lowest coming in at $480,000 from Advanced Building Corporation, according to Steve Vig, MCC’s coordinating officer.
And a settlement with the insurance company netted more than originally expected, around $360,000. According to MCC’s analysis, the money can be used to “repair the building...and maintain a healthy cash reserve, without increasing rent to members.”
Much still needs to be worked out, Kestrel says. It’s uncertain who will move into the house once it’s ready.
Simmons says many former members are eager to return. “It’s a Madison institution, and like any institution, like any of our other cultural assets that make Madison Madison, it needs to be preserved and loved and, if necessary, defended when its existence is threatened.”
At a time when Madison is experiencing both a boom in high-end housing construction and a shortage of affordable housing, co-ops offer a more sustainable alternative.
“Downtown is in danger of losing its character,” Simmons says. “Lothlorien is like a vitamin supplement for that old Madison character.”