Grant Hauser/The Badger Herald

A controversial four-story building proposal for the 400 block of Mifflin passed through a crucial step of the city process Wednesday evening under the condition the developer adhere to additional changes requested by a city commission. 

The Urban Design Commission approved developer Patrick McCaughey’s proposal for a mixed housing complex that has served as a point of contention among students who have argued the building would go against the area’s historical culture.

UDC unanimously gave initial approval for the proposal to move through the city process, but said the developer had to agree to rework the entrance stairs, as well as make changes to the setback and coloring of the fourth floor.

John Bieno, Vice President of TJK Design and the project’s lead designer, said he was asking UDC to give final approval of the proposal so the project can be considered at the Plan Commission Feb. 21 and the City Council Feb. 22. If the UDC had not given initial approval, Bieno said the construction would be delayed another month.

Bieno said Wednesday’s presentation was the group’s third time in front of UDC and the design team had worked to satisfy the commission’s members as well as a number of students and community members who have adamantly argued against the proposal through a “Save Mifflin” effort.

Since the project’s last presentation at UDC, the designers have pushed back the controversial fourth floor, Bieno said. The building now features a three-story structure on the street.

The proposal’s architectural features also were simplified to make the building more cohesive with the rest of the neighborhood, Bieno said.

Peggy LeMahieu, West Mifflin Neighborhood Association member, said despite the developer’s changes, she was still opposing the project as an individual.

“The proposed structure still does not add visually to the other area structures, but rather it takes away from them because of its density and height,” LeMahieu said. “Under UDC standards, new structures should not present an extreme contrast with the other structures.”

LeMahieu also said the Downtown Plan also calls for a three-story structure in the proposed location, making the proposal unacceptable.

Rick Broughman, WMNA member, said despite the number of community concerns, he has supported the project from its beginning.

Although students have raised concerns the new building would increase the rents in the neighborhood, Broughman said he did not think that was true.

“Looking at supply and demand, greater supply will result in lower rents,” Broughman said. “There will be an abundance of sub-standard housing for students for years to come.”

Indy Stulka, lead student activist against the proposal, said the “Save Mifflin” group is organizing a petition of protest to get a common council super majority vote for the project.

When the students informed McCaughey of the petition, he told them they did not accurately represent the student body.

“Pat informed us that we do not know what students want, this [proposal] will get passed, and that we should buy the land ourselves if we want it changed,” Stulka said.

UDC also heard an informational presentation Wednesday for a Bethel Lutheran Church community center. The center would be designed to serve a number of downtown residents.

The center would feature two gymnasiums, a preschool and daycare component, recreational facilities and various classes for community members, project manager Randy Alexander said.

The proposal will report back to UDC in 60 to 90 days to request formal action.