Madison residents voiced their concerns over the planned conversion of a downtown church building into new student housing at a neighborhood meeting Wednesday.
The meeting was called to address the application of the Cathedral Parish to convert the Holy Redeemer School building, located at 142 W. Johnson Street, into new apartments. The application to change the land use of the property was contentious due to the status of the building as a Madison city landmark, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said.
The school was built in 1892 and was declared a city landmark in 1999, according to a statement from the Mansion Hill Neighborhood Association. The proposed changes would require gutting the interior of the building and creating 48 single occupancy bedrooms and five double occupancy bedrooms, according to the statement.
Kevin Holmes, a pastor at Holy Redeemer Church, cited several reasons for the proposed conversion of the building.
The school building is currently underutilized, according to Holmes. The building is an old structure and is badly deteriorated, he said, adding it would be more expensive to bring the building up to modern standards through renovations.
Through this project, the building could be restored and would be in much higher use, Holmes said. He added the revenue from renting the building would support the construction and the life of the parish.
Parishioners from Holy Redeemer Church expressed concern with looking at the building as a business and using it to make money.
Parking was another fault community member and parishioners found with the proposed project. The church parking lot borders the school building, Verveer said.
John Kothe, one of the real estate partners on the project, explained the tenants of the apartments would not be allowed use of the parking lot. Students with cars would look elsewhere for parking or not rent apartments in the building, he said.
Parishioners and community members also took issue with the loss of space for church activities, such as religious education and serving homeless meals.
“They argue [the project] is going to bring the building back to life, but up until a couple months ago the building was full of life,” Gail Geib, a Holy Redeemer parishioner said.
Additionally, about 250 parishioners signed a petition against the project as a whole, according to Gene Devitt, Mansion Hill Neighborhood Association chair.
According to Holmes, converting the building into apartments is the most feasible route to go in terms of cost to the church.
“We can only do what is feasible to do,” Holmes said. “[The project] seems to me to be extremely positive with regards to the life of the neighborhood.”
This is a very sensitive topic because of the closing of the school building to use by parishioners, Verveer said.
Verveer said the city only has jurisdiction over the outside of the building and cannot address the concerns brought up by the community members. Any concerns over the design of the inside of the building and preservation of church space must be resolved between Holmes and the members of the parish, he said.
The next step for the planned conversion is approval from the Madison Landmarks Commission on March 11.