HotelRED, which sits on the corner of Monroe and Regent streets, wants to double its height, adding four stories to its existing four-story hotel.
Neighbors are split between supporting a business they have come to respect and saying no to a building they think is too tall.
Members of the Madison Plan Commission say the taller building would look fine, but the neighborhood is not zoned for that height. It voted against the proposal at its meeting Monday night.
“I agree with the applicant that increasing the height might make the building more aesthetic and the design more pleasing, but I agree with the neighborhood that an eight-story height ... is just too massive at this intersection,” commissioner Brad Cantrell said.
HotelRED, located steps from Camp Randall Stadium at 1501 Monroe St., has been open since 2011. The proposed addition would make the building about 100 feet tall, but zoning code for the area calls for a maximum height of 40 feet.
The building would increase from its current 39,867 square feet to about 76,600 square feet, and would add about 50 guest rooms. The eighth floor would include outdoor eating areas, a kitchen, rooftop garden and event space.
The development team said that although the plans don't align with zoning for the area, a taller building would fit the intersection as the UW Field House, located across Monroe Street, is over 100 feet tall. More hotel customers would bring more business to the shops and restaurants on Monroe, they added, and generate revenue for the city via room taxes. The development team emphasized the uniqueness of the location.
“That height question I think is different here. This is not your traditional shopping street. This is a pivot point between Regent and Monroe, and it serves as an activation for both Regent and Monroe,” said Alan Fish, a former UW-Madison administrator representing the hotel group.
Because the building is on a corner, its shadows would fall mostly into the intersection, team members said.
Commissioner Melissa Berger and Ald. Steve King agreed that the unique site of the building made concerns about height and shadows less concerning, but it was still too far outside standards.
This isn’t the first time the hotel has faced concerns about height. When originally seeking city approval for construction in 2007, the developers originally proposed a five-story hotel, which was rejected. The four-story design was approved in 2008.
At Monday’s meeting, Michael Erikson, president of Red Hospitality which owns the hotel, talked about the company’s goal to make the hotel a community asset, despite initial opposition.
“There were many people who were not in favor of this project whatsoever,” Erickson said. “We like to think we sort of proved them wrong and we have created an asset over the past five years.”
The hotel hosts meetings for organizations like the Vilas Neighborhood Association and returned Peace Corps volunteers, said Jason Ilstrup, Hotel RED general manager. If the addition was approved, a food and beverage lounge on the eighth floor would also be available for the neighborhood's use.
“We want to be a great public space for these neighborhoods, and with more room and more size we’ll be able to do even more of that,” he said.
Neighbors who spoke confirmed a friendly relationship with the business.
“I think they’ve been excellent stewards in the community both in terms of community events, job creation, providing space to the community and just being generally pretty good neighbors,” said Tim Lacy, a resident on Regent Street.
“Clearly the neighborhood, even those speaking against this increased height, are very appreciative of the welcoming and community nature of the hotel,” said Ald. Ledell Zellers. “So kudos to the operators of the hotel.”
But some neighbors said the hotel’s community focus didn’t outweigh the same concerns they had nine years ago: parking, traffic, shadows, height and setting a bad precedent for future development.
“We voted on the same sort of thing twice, and it was clear that it had to stay at four,” said Peter Schofer, a neighborhood resident. “I see no reason now why it should go to eight; nothing has changed.”
“If you can say, ‘You can go to eight,’ you can be guaranteed that you're going to have all kinds of people all over town wanting to go to up to eight," he said.
Ald. Sara Eskrich, whose district includes the hotle, wrote to the Plan Commission that while she was “frankly quite surprised by the level of support,” she would not support or oppose the project.
“There is too much of a split opinion in my neighborhoods, and the policy does not provide for clear reason to approve this project,” she said.
The commission voted to place the proposal “on file without prejudice,” which would allow the applicant to come back to the commission at any time with a revised proposal. Several commissioners said that although this plan was excessive, added height would be a good thing for the building.
“Every time I look at that building, it always hits me as, ‘It’s not tall enough’ the way it looks right now,” said commissioner Michael Rewey.