A highly contested proposal for a student high-rise on University Avenue got approval from a city commission Monday night, after nearly two hours of public forum from two rivaling campus ministry communities.

In a 4-3 vote, the Madison Plan Commission approved a plan for an eight-story high-rise as part of the redevelopment for the St. Francis Episcopal Student Center.

The proposal will go in front of City Council tonight for final approval.

The meeting ran late into the night when approximately 30 people from the St. Francis community and the Luther Memorial community – which has a ministry building near the proposed high-rise – signed up to speak at the public forum.

Randy Bruce, architect for the St. Francis project, said the 80-unit high-rise would have height consistent with the buildings in the area and would include a courtyard and space for bicycle parking.

The original plans for the St. Francis high-rise called for 12 stories, but after talks between Luther Memorial and St. Francis, as well as the Plan Commission’s rejection of the plan earlier this year, St. Francis presented the eight story plan as a compromise, Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said.

While St. Francis would be building the high-rise, the building would not function for a religious purpose, he said. It would be partially owned by the Episcopalian Church, and partially owned by the developer, LZ Ventures.

But members of the Luther Memorial community disagreed on the nature of the “compromise” in public forum.

Franklin Wilson, a member of Luther Memorial, argued St. Francis’s new proposal was essentially the same and it reminded him of an incident playing ball as a child.

When his brother was winning at baseball, Wilson said, he took a swing at him with a baseball bat. He said his mother told him he should not hit people with baseball bats.

“So I picked up a croquet mallet and took a cut at him,” Wilson said.

Part of Luther Memorial’s vested interest in the St. Francis high-rise stems from how the proposed high-rise would affect the internal and external atmosphere of their own sanctuary.

Laura Rose, who attends Luther Memorial on University Avenue, said during public forum she feared the colorful patterns of light through the stained-glass windows would be affected, and she was not the only one who voiced those concerns.

Council President for Luther Memorial, Al Larson, said the high-rise could be an eyesore for the University Avenue corridor in 40 years and urged the commission to think for the long term.

But not everyone felt new student housing would be detrimental to the area’s overall atmosphere.

University of Wisconsin law student Bryce Cummings said living in Grand Central this year has showed him how convenient and safe the area is for UW students and the high-rise would give more students the opportunity to live in that area.

Members of Luther Memorial are going to City Council to try to convince members to ultimately deny the proposal, said Douglas Swiggum, chair of the Luther Memorial Facilities Committee.

“We’re not picking a side. We’re not picking a religion,” Resnick said. “Hopefully afterwards, both parties can sit down and find solutions for their neighborhood.”

The original article referred to the Lutheran community’s ministry as “Lutheran Memorial”, when it should have read “Luther Memorial.” The article reflects those changes. We regret the error.

St. Francis Housing Proposal on Dipity.