A committee’s recommendations for allowing redevelopment on the block containing a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home proved controversial at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
While the Lamp House Committee’s report was accepted at the last council meeting, its guidelines for potential redevelopment on the block were not formally incorporated as a supplement to the city’s Downtown Plan.
The council took up that matter Tuesday, but a group of members took issue with the committee’s recommendation that height limits be imposed to preserve views of Lake Mendota from the roof of the Robert M. Lamp House, 22 N. Butler St.
Council members ultimately approved adding the committee’s report as a supplement to the Downtown Plan by voice vote.
But numerous council members expressed concerns about whether protecting the Lamp House’s view toward Lake Mendota would set a precedent about protecting private views. City staff said that would not be the case and provided other examples where views would be protected, notably Bascom Hall and the state Capitol.
“The significance of the Lamp House rises above other structures,” said city preservation planner Amy Scanlon.
In a late decision, Ald. Mark Clear, 19th District, sensing that the measure would fail, opted not to introduce his own amendment, which called for elimination of the committee’s roof height recommendations.
Nan Fey, who was chairwoman of the ad-hoc Lamp House Committee testified that Clear’s amendment was “radical” and was “essentially gutting the report.”
But in his own remarks, Clear defended the intent of the amendment, which was later introduced by Ald. Sue Ellingson, 13th District.
“I think actually it was undoing what I thought were some radical recommendations in the original report,” Clear said. “I think it is radical to begin to start to talk about preserving views from a landmark. I think it’s radical to begin to talk about eliminating potentially millions of dollars worth of air rights from properties all over the north side of the isthmus.”
Clear also said planning for the block should have included residents or property owners .
But Clear’s amendment ultimately failed 14-6.
The Lamp House, built in 1903 and perhaps Wright’s most personal work in the city, is in the center of the block and is surrounded by other homes, apartment buildings and offices. It is the earliest surviving example of Wright’s local work and was designed for his boyhood friend, “Robie” Lamp. The house, made of cream-colored brick, was originally two stories, but a penthouse was added in 1913. It was designated a city landmark in 1976 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Lamp House once had views of lakes Mendota and Monona, but the Monona views were obstructed by other construction. Wright’s significance in Wisconsin proved persuasive to several council members who expressed concerns about the precedent of protecting private views.
“We have the opportunity to preserve the story as it was meant to be told,” said Ald. Denise DeMarb, 16th District.