City presses Gorman on Union Corners building design

By Mike Ivey, Capital Times, May 11, 2014

Union Corners, one of the most anticipated redevelopments in recent memory, will get a review by the Madison Plan Commission Monday night.

Developer Gorman & Co. recently made some significant changes to its plan for the long-vacant site, including moving the UW Health clinic off of the corner of East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street.

Rather than anchoring the high-profile corner, the $20 million, two-story clinic building is now shown at the corner of East Wash and Sixth Street. Instead of the clinic, the new plan shows a pair of four- to six-story mixed-use buildings fronting East Wash and Milwaukee Street.

Those changes were applauded by nearby residents and the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara neighborhood group.

But city planners in a new report are emphasizing that any new buildings must be well-designed and attractive.

“Perhaps the most important factor to be considered during the review …. will be the architectural treatment of the individual buildings across the site,” writes city planner Tim Parks.

Moreover, since the project will serve as something of a gateway into the downtown, new buildings must contain “significant visual interest” from both East Wash and Milwaukee Street, Parks adds.

That means hiding garage doors, trash enclosures and loading docks while requiring building facades be “well articulated, porous and highly activated.”

The updated plan from Gorman does place most of the surface parking behind the buildings to make it less visible from the street; reduces the height of two apartment buildings at the back of the site and includes two pedestrian walkways through the middle of the 11.5-acre site.

Gorman & Co. says it now hopes to break ground in the fall if all the approvals are in place by that point.

Also Monday, the commission will consider final plans from developer Jim Stopple for a 12-story 115-unit apartment at 617 N. Segoe Road behind the Hilldale Shopping Center.

That project has faced strong opposition from owners in the luxury Weston Place condos next door, who say the apartment contains too many units and is out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood.

City planning staff is recommending approval of the project in a report but urges the commission to carefully weigh comments during the public hearing Monday.

“Although the proposed project is large, and large on its site, the Planning Division believes it may be possible to find the applicable standards are met,” writes city planner Kevin Firchow.

The Plan Commission hearing begins at 6 p.m. in Room 201 of the City County Building, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.