Reynolds Crane Lot

The Reynolds Crane Lot, looking east down E. Mifflin Street. 

The Reynolds Crane lot at the corner of Livingston and E. Mifflin is one giant open possibility. I’ll admit, I like looking at the enormous cranes when I walk by. But what I like even more when I walk by is to imagine what this expansive lot could become someday soon.

Earlier this fall, an Atlanta-based developer backed down from a proposed residential development for the lot.

It took only a matter of months for a new proposal to rise to the table. T. Wall Enterprises, a local developer with residential projects in Madison, Middleton, Verona and Green Bay, has announced a proposal for 185 market-rate apartments on the site. That’s about all we know until a neighborhood meeting Dec. 3.

In the meantime, it’s important to consider what exactly we want to see in a development.

 

The Park

A 2012 project by UW-Madison Landscape Architecture student Matthew Donoghue proposed a park for the crane lot

It’s important to discuss one item up front: The 2008 Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Plan indicates a desire for this lot “should it come available” to become park space. I’m willing to hear a good argument for a park here. I’m eager to hear the potential for funding such a park in the next 5-7 years and what need a park would fill that the current Reynolds Park next door does not already fill. I come with no judgment, but these are legitimate questions. It’s hard to deny how cool something like this could be.

 

A Residential Proposal

A 2013 proposal for the crane lot shows a view down E. Mifflin Street. 

If we do move forward with a residential proposal, I think there’s a list of must-haves for this site. Many of these basic must-haves were covered under the previous, 2013 development plan—a concept that received support from the TLNA. I think T. Wall would do well to follow to some of the basics:

·         The proposed development was dense, but rose to only four stories

·         It hugged the sidewalk while offering a slightly varied site line

·         It featured attractive and relatively timeless exterior materials

·         Direct sidewalk entrances for street-level units

With the portion of the Constellation across E. Mifflin Street rising to four stories (it’s actually, logistically, a separate building than the tower with different infrastructure and a different address), I believe it’s important not to exceed that height with this new development. Three stories with a slight setback in the fourth would be ideal. No more.

Perhaps most important for this site is to demand variance throughout the design. This is a massive space and a massive, long, flat all-brick building, like this past proposal, will be an boring mess.

A past proposal for the crane lot shows the effect of no design variance on a massive project.

But we need intelligent design variance. In the 2013 design proposal, although the face of the building jutted in and out, it was essentially the same design repeated four times along the street. City Row on W. Johnson Street does a better job than any other development I’ve seen in Madison of hiding the fact that it’s a single building. Let’s demand that idea for this project. Otherwise, we may very well see one large suburban-looking mass in an urban neighborhood.

 

Concerns

T. Wall Enterprises describes themselves as “dedicated and excited to continue growing Madison’s luxury apartment market.” This will not sit well with many neighbors. There’s no doubt that luxury apartments look nice and can add good value to the tax base, but my experience tells me it’s not what many neighbors are dreaming of. Additionally, the proposed 200 parking spaces will delight neighbors concerned about parking, but also indicates this is not a development intended to attract non-vehicle tenants.

I also eagerly await design proposals. T. Wall Enterprises has done some good work in the past, but they’ve also done a good job a recreating many prominent concepts across their developments. I don’t think anyone wants “just another four-story luxury apartment complex.” I think the neighborhood deserves a classic design, but something that also proves the architects imagined something unique for this space and the neighborhood.

 

I’ll withhold full judgment until the Dec. 3 meeting. It’s important not to jump to conclusions until then. But I hope to see many of the ideas listed above, and expect the neighborhood to make it known if the proposal fails to meet expectations.