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Concerns over parking continue in James Madison Park redesign process

January 10, 2019

Concerns remained about a new parking layout in the planned redesign of James Madison Park as city staff offered Wednesday two possible alternatives to the Park Commission that would reduce the prominence of the parking lot.

Several city residents weighed in on the major changes to the popular Downtown park proposed in a draft master plan, largely advocating against putting any parking along East Gorham Street.

“The community wants much less parking than what is currently proposed,” said Bob Klebba, who lives next to the park.

The Park Commission adjourned without making a recommendation on the master plan or the alternative parking layouts. The topic will return to the body in February.

The draft master plan initially proposed replacing a 26-stall parking lot on the western end of the park behind the Gates of Heaven synagogue with the same number of stalls in a linear parking lot that would run adjacent to East Gorham Street.

City staff billed the proposed lot as providing better access to park amenities due to its proximity to a proposed new shelter and relocated sports courts and a playground.

But opponents to the parking lot location say it could affect views of Lake Mendota from East Gorham Street, takes up too much green space and requires the removal of mature trees. Many said the parking lot should remain near Gates of Heaven.

For Wednesday’s meeting, two alternative parking options were drafted that would shift some of the parking spaces away from East Gorham Street and reduce the lot’s length. More parking availability would then be added by Gates of Heaven and at the northern end of Blount Street.

James Madison Park neighbor Joe Lusson said the shorter parking lot “would still ruin some of the best public views” of Lake Mendota.

Since the draft master plan was released last fall for the 12.6-acre park, the city’s Parks Division and Park Commission members have received a bevy of emailed comments, with a large number of people opposed to the linear parking layout.

A few Park Commission members said they would like to see no parking at all, but acknowledge it is necessary for people who travel to James Madison Park from outside the neighborhood and for people with disabilities.

All together, the draft plan calls for some major changes to the park, including a rearrangement of the sports courts, more stormwater retention features and a new, expanded shelter.

It would cluster the two basketball courts, one sand volleyball court and a new playground together near the center of the park. Currently, the heavily used basketball courts are on the western end of the public space, and the volleyball court and medium-sized playground are near the middle.

Based on the public input process, improved accessibility is a top priority for a redesigned park that could include wider paths, more handicap-accessible parking stalls and better access to a new park shelter.

Olin Park

In other action, the Park Commission recommended spending $5.5 million to purchase 3.65 acres of shoreline property next to Olin Park.

The land, at 330 and 342 E. Lakeside St., is owned by the Wisconsin Medical Society and would add 450 feet of shoreline to the popular South Side park. The property currently has a two-story, 41,026-square-foot building and a surface parking lot on it.

The money would come from the citywide Park Impact Fee District, a fund established for payments from new residential developments that do not dedicate parkland as part of their projects.

Additionally, Mike Bare, one of the owners of BKM Group LLC, which operates the Biergarten at Olbrich Park, said Wednesday the business intends to seek its first two-year renewal option to lease part of the beach house and adjacent green space in the park. The renewal period would cover 2020 and 2021 with another two-year option possible after that.

Bare said the group would like to see two changes for the 2019 season: Getting an entertainment license to allow for amplified performances and letting dogs into the beer garden. Currently, Olbrich Park does not allow dogs, so the city would need to change its policy.

After a lengthy approval process fueled by neighborhood concerns, the German-style beer garden opened in the East Side park in June 2017.

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