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After Two-and-a-half Years, Four Proposals and 44 Meetings, Developer Bob Sieger
 Almost Ready to Give Up on Building a Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin

By Patricia Simms, The Wisconsin State JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jan. 14, 2008 - After two-and-a-half years, four proposals and 44 meetings, veteran Madison architect Bob Sieger has almost given up on building anything on the corner of Regent and Monroe streets.

Lofts. Condos. A hotel. A smaller hotel. No matter what he proposes for 1501-09 Monroe St., Sieger says, a small group of opponents in the Vilas Neighborhood Association will shoot it down. "I 've got the feeling I could build a park here, and it wouldn 't be good enough," Sieger said.

So far, the Madison Plan Commission has rejected four of Sieger 's plans for the site because of complaints from neighbors, the last decision on Dec. 17 citing concerns his hotel would hurt the neighborhood.

Still, he's going to try again this month, bringing the Plan Commission a plan for a four-story hotel with a modest penthouse and paying another $500 application fee.

In some ways, the dispute is simple. Sieger's proposed hotel meets zoning regulations, city planner Tim Parks said, but Sieger needs a demolition permit to take down the 16,000-square-foot building that's there, empty of tenants except for Sieger.

The Plan Commission has to approve the demolition permit, and members can consider the building's proposed use and its effect on the neighborhood as a factor in the decision.

So far, the Plan Commission hasn't blessed Sieger's project.

Parks said planning staff felt that a hotel was appropriate for the property if the commission didn 't have a problem with the height. But "the Plan Commission disagreed that hotels were appropriate and clearly expressed their concerns about the height in their action on Dec. 17," Parks said.

Neighbors also worry about the effect of a hotel on traffic and partying. "There are continuing problems with liquor abuse, noise, and unruly behavior associated with football games that adversely affect the neighbors around the intersection of Monroe and Regent Streets," said Daryl Sherman, president of the Dudgeon Monroe Neighborhood Association.

Sherman said the hotel would have a ground-floor bar that opens onto the street and extremely large balconies on the second floor. "Will this be a hotel or a noisy residential bar on football Saturdays?" he said. "Our game day problems could be made worse by this plan."

Disagreement issues

Dean Grosskopf, president of the hotel management company that would operate the 50-unit, $7.5 million boutique hotel, said opponents have created an angry mob scene. "I don 't know if Bob could ever come up with anything they would like," Grosskopf said. "He feels trapped, and I understand why."

Sieger thinks it's personal, but Vilas Neighborhood Association President Rosemary Bodolay says that's silly.

"I don 't really even know the man," Bodolay said. "If he sold that building tomorrow to someone in Atlanta, they would still have to come up with something that fits in the Monroe Street plan."

The neighborhood's not anti-retail, Bodolay said -- the association has supported other recent commercial projects on Monroe Street -- such as the Monroe Commons and Pizza Brutta at the former site of Sepp Sport -- but it wants a project that will fit into the existing streetscape.

"Three stories is what we're asking, maybe four if there's a good reason, but we're not going to design his building for him," Bodolay said.

Bodolay and Ald. Julia Kerr, 13th District, said Sieger's hotel doesn 't fit the Monroe Street Commercial District plan.

Sieger said he's submitted a proposal for the site four times in the last two years. He said he thinks his newest version meets the plan, and said neighbors are unrealistic about what's economically feasible. "I get the feeling that a nice little two-story something without a liquor license is what the neighborhood wants, but it would be economically foolish," he said.

Former Madison Ald. Ron Trachtenberg, a lawyer who represents Sieger, said a loud handful of opponents from the Vilas Neighborhood Association is bullying the commission and City Council members.

The opposition

Leading the charge against Sieger, Trachtenberg said, is Kerr, former head of the Vilas Neighborhood Association and now a member of the Plan Commission.

Kerr said she recused herself from voting Dec. 17. "That way I felt like he could get the fairest possible hearing," she said.

Kerr said she understands Sieger 's concerns -- she said she used to be a developer. "He 's had plenty of opportunity to hear from the neighbors. Now he needs to figure out what deal is going to work for him."

Kerr acknowledged it 's a tough site, sitting across from Camp Randall Stadium at an intersection already tangled by traffic, especially on game days. Parking access isn't easy, she said. "There are serious questions raised about the projects he 's proposed," Kerr said. "It 's up to a developer to address" them.

Though it seems to Sieger he 's being singled out, Parks said Madison is well-known for its active and engaged neighborhoods, especially when it comes to development. "Neighborhoods everywhere are always looking for the developments and developers they think will bring the most benefit and least detriment to their area," Parks said.

Ald. Robbie Webber, 5th District, who's also opposed Sieger's proposals for 1501 Monroe St., said Sieger has had "communication issues" with the Vilas Neighborhood Association.

"You can take that any way you want, but I think these communication issues have contributed to the Plan Commission being unable to give a go-ahead to both of the projects that have been proposed," Webber said.

MONROE STREET PROPOSAL

What's happened:

Madison architect Bob Sieger is trying to develop the property he owns at 1501-1509 Monroe St. Reacting to complaints from neighborhood associations, the Madison Plan Commission has rejected his plans -- first for condos, then for a boutique hotel -- on the site.

What's next: Sieger is revising his hotel plan and resubmitting it to the Plan Commission and the neighborhood for consideration in February.

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To see more of The Wisconsin State Journal, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.wisconsinstatejournal.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Wisconsin State Journal

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