A proposed boutique hotel at the corner of East Washington Avenue and North Franklin Street is being pitched as a "smaller, more intimate hotel" with between 50 and 60 rooms.
But even at its relatively smaller size, there's concern about the scale of the project, as well as the historic value of the properties it would replace.
Michael Metzger, of McGrath Property Group, the owner of the property, is proposing to build a hotel with commercial space on the first floor facing East Washington Avenue, which Metzger said would include a cafe or coffee shop.
The application describes the design as a “clean contemporary aesthetic.” The designs show a first floor with a smaller footprint than the above stories, creating an overhang.
Metzger presented the design to the city’s Urban Design Commission on Wednesday. Commission members said that architecturally, the building didn’t “read” as a hotel. The design team said they were pleased with that comment, saying the boutique hotel is not meant to be or look conventional.
But commission members were more concerned with the size and scale of the five-story project, which they said could significantly change the dynamic and “greatly erode” the fabric of the neighborhood.
“How do you preserve part of Franklin and Hancock that are expected to remain residential and have a certain character to them if we start changing the character on this part of the street?” said UDC chair Dick Wagner.
At the meeting, Ledell Zellers, alder for the district, said she’s heard many comments from neighbors on the “stark” architecture, lack of green space, parking and traffic flow, as North Franklin is a one-way street, meaning that drivers leaving the hotel would have to enter the neighborhood.
But one of the bigger worries, and one that “came as real surprise,” Zellers said, was concern from residents and the Landmarks Commission about the historic value of the four properties that would need to be moved or demolished.
Four multi-unit houses sit on the sites at 502 and 506 E. Washington Ave. and at 7 and 11 N. Franklin St.
At a Landmarks Committee meeting on Monday, all four buildings were found to have varying degrees of historic value, some of which center around Leonard J. Farwell, the second governor of Wisconsin, known for making Wisconsin the first state to abolish capital punishment.
The single-family home at 7 N. Franklin St. was built by Farwell as an investment property when he was governor in 1853. The two-unit apartment at 506 E. Washington Ave. is also thought to be associated with Farwell, possibly also as an investment house, Amy Scanlon, preservation planner for the city, said in an email.
A report by historian Gary Tipler notes that “one or both of these may be the only houses associated with Leonard J. Farwell that still stand.”
The four-unit apartment at 11 N. Franklin was constructed by the Claude and Stark Firm, famous for projects like Breese Stevens Field and the Madison Gas and Electric Company Powerhouse. Scanlon notes that while “an intact example of Claude and Stark work would have architectural and historical value,” the house at 11 N. Franklin has “had many architectural features removed or covered.”
The two-unit brick apartment building at 502 E. Washington Ave. was built in 1889 in the Queen Anne style.
“The historical value lies in its architectural style,” Scanlon wrote, adding that more research is needed about the building and its inhabitants.
The development team has agreed to move the property at 502 E. Washington Ave, but Metzger said they have no plans to move the other properties. He wasn’t notified of the Landmarks Commission meeting, and isn’t sure what they decided, he said.
While Zellers said she’s generally not a fan of moving buildings, this could put the structure in a “much better location.”
Zellers said before the meeting that it’s too early in the discussion to know if the historical discoveries will interfere with plans for the hotel.
“The bottom line is they’re identifying these as kind of at least yellow caution lights, if not stoplights,” she said.
Asked whether any of the historical findings would suggest that the buildings could not be removed or demolished, Scanlon said the Landmark Commission findings will be forwarded to the city’s Plan and Urban Design Commissions.
“We walk by un-designated landmarks everyday without knowing of their significance because research hasn’t been done to adequately tell the building's story,” she wrote. “This historic value review process allows numerous bodies to pause in their deliberation to consider the value of history as it relates to the value of demolition and development.”
The presentation before the UDC was informational, so the commission took no formal action on the proposal. Metzger said they were hoping to appear before the Plan Commission in late December or early January.