Thursday, March 23, 2006

Madison: Being Madison

by Tom Bozzo

Sure, I realize that Whole Foods Market, a.k.a. "Whole Paycheck," is a big corporation that's friendly to its workers to the extent they don't get any ideas about forming unions.

However, the Plan Commission's vote against the store's relocation to the Hilldale redevelopment strikes me as medium-box wise and big-box foolish. As reported by the Cap Times (and Ald. Konkel), considerable disappointment had registered that, in contrast to the pseudo-new urbanism of the rest of the development, the new store would be a reasonably large box surrounded by a reasonably large amount of parking.

At this point, Sam Kinison would loudly remind everyone that Whole Foods is a F***IN' GROCERY STORE!!!! And, for that matter, Hilldale remains a f***in' mall.

Then there's the matter of what's there now. There's tired, vacant, low-rise offices with no serious future other than the wrecking ball. There's a McDonald's and a strip center fronted by a Pizza Hut across the street, plus the tired and mostly vacant office building in which I work. The blocks between Hilldale and the current Whole Foods location are not exactly postcard material. So it's not like a neighborhood of adorable Tudor Revival bungalows is going to be despoiled by approving the development.

The proposal was also panned for lack of a traffic management plann for that part of the development. But to the extent that's really a concern, then — a fortiori, even — so should the likely alternative that the Whole Foods decamps to someplace on the suburban fringes where it'll generate more and longer trips, particularly for the dwellers of the new condos adjacent to the property, and also for many near-west side dwellers for which the existing store is a not inconsiderable retail amenity.

(In that regard, while I don't think Ald. Webber is necessarily out of touch with her constituents in the broader sense, I'd like her to assemble a random sample of them in person and then say, "If we lose Whole Foods, we lose Whole Foods. But there are plenty of other groceries around there.")

Last, if these concerns were applied retroactively to Madison's hideous quasi-suburban fringes — or if anyone had shown signs of giving a crap when something could have been done about it — you'd have to tear everything down and start over, as it's all big boxes and gallows humor for traffic planning. Just saying.

So a good resolution to the situation would be to take the project to the whole city council, passing it by any margin, and moving on.
great post!
Figured you'd like this one, Bryan ;).

Of course, it's not that I'm inherently unsympathetic to the concerns of the Plan Commission's naysayers. It's mainly that they seem to have failed to consider whether the alternative is really going to be better.
I'm with you on this (you knew I would be as well). The Hilldale commercial center has yet to demonstrate that it can override decades of frumpy-ugly, thoughtless, depressing retail management. And forgive me, however imperfect Wh.Foods would have been, it could not have been worse than the ugly parking ramp that is the current focal point of the Midvale/University intersection.
Finally, pushing the store into the suburbs makes no sense. My former suburban neighbors did not shop organic. They shopped Woodman's. Whole Foods is Shorewood's dream baby. In the check out line, I see more young foreign university faculty (from University Housing) than just about any other type of shopper.

Sigh, this city can sometimes be maddening in the way it moves projects forward. Or not.
If Whole Foods moves to the far west side, I'll probably save at least a couple thousand dollars a year.
So, they can't redesign it to be a better fit or the neighborhood?
To explain my previous post a little more. I might be more sympathetic to them if they hadn't (basically) submitted the same plan twice.

See, once their plan was rejected the first time, they should have gone back and made some changes, but they didn't.
Shane: I don't know enough about the procedural details to know to what extent they had to ask the Plan Commission for reconsideration before taking their case to the council.

As for the fit with the neighborhood, I don't accept the premise that the plan isn't appropriate for the location, for reasons I'll explore in a later post.
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