Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mayor Dave - stop using Edgewater as an example

Note: I wrote this entry back in mid-June, right after the Mayor's State of the City address, and his announcement that he wanted to "fix the development process." I never posted it, because I wanted to add some links, and never got around to looking them up. 

Now Bob Dunn has threatened a counter suit to the one questioning the approval process. He's acting like a spoiled kid (again), and that just brought all this Edgewater stuff back. The Cap Times ran an editorial titled, "Coming to a neighborhood near you: less influence."  And Marsha Rummel has organized a neighborhood summit this Saturday to talk about the proposals to "fix the process."

So once again, the Edgewater rears its ugly head as example one of "what's wrong with the development process." Well, I think that should stop. Read what I initially wrote back on June 16. I was mad, and still am. 

The Mayor wants to "fix the development process." He said this immediately after the Landmarks Commission rejected the Edgewater plan for the first time, and now he has brought it back up in his State of the City speech and at the Economic Development Commission.

He should stop using the Edgewater as an example of a typical Madison process for a development, because it isn't typical, and it just reminds people how that project split the city. The Edgewater process was long and painful for two reasons. It was an expensive, controversial project that had some very good arguments against it (principally breaking just about every TIF rule and rejection twice by the Landmarks Commission), and the process was bungled by the developer and many of his allies.

And let me say right up front that I had no strong feelings about the Edgewater development as a building. My main objection was the TIF process, which violated almost every rule the Council and the Planning Department had put in place to safeguard the Madison taxpayers and make the TIF allocations fair to all applicants. It took a lot of bad faith and arrogance to anger me to the point of disgust about how the public process was being handled.

In my six years as alder and the time since, I have never seen a development handled so poorly. The list of missteps is far too long to enumerate here, but starts with the public involvement. It was clear from the start that the developer had no respect for public opinion, and he resorted to astroturf support when people spoke out against him. When the developer presented his plans to the public, he was sure that he would prevail, because he had lined up all the correct supporters behind the scenes, as is common in large cities where he is accustomed to operating.

The problem is that most of the Madison decision makers actually have respect for the public process, and they rebelled at the back room dealings that were going on. The citizens that volunteer their time on city commissions, city staff, and the immediate neighbors were disrespected and dismissed. City staff won't complain in public, because they have too much professionalism, but I was appalled by what I heard "off the record."

The Edgewater process amounted to dragging an unhappy, sick kid, kicking and screaming, to a folk or classical concert you want to see. You got the kid to the physical location you wanted, and you are there to see the concert, but  the kid is going to disturb everyone else at the event, make them sick, make them hate you for bringing the kid, and piss off the kid as well. Then you complain that you didn't enjoy the concert, and the sound wasn't very good.

At some point you have to say, "Is this really a good idea?" Perhaps the Edgewater had so many problems, not because the Madison development process is broken, but because it isn't a good project, and the developers screwed up the process themselves.

Mayor Dave - stop using the Edgewater as an example. How about looking at how smoothly the Target and the moderate-income housing next to it created barely a ripple. What about all the projects that were passed in your first six years? Even in this economy, there is construction almost everywhere you look (except the periphery, and I don't mind seeing sprawl stall a bit.)

If you want to reform the development process, look a bit beyond the last time someone stood up and said, "No." Look at all the times they said, "Yes," and see what made those projects so easy.