University of Wisconsin professional chemistry fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma is appealing the city Plan Commission’s ruling to rescind plans for the North Lake Street project.
According to the Cap Times, the project would include the demolition of two houses on North Lake Street to make a new building that would include space for both the fraternity and apartment units for rent.
During the Plan Commission’s Nov. 23 meeting, though 29 registrants spoke for over almost two hours in support of the North Lake Street project proposal, the Commission rejected the plan.
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According to the Cap Times, a report was issued by the city’s Planning Division prior to the Nov. 23 meeting that pointed to the fact that the North Lake Street properties are located in a National Register Historic District. Supporters of the demolition say this report may have been what persuaded commissioners to vote against the project.
UW Alpha Chi Sigma alumnus Jay Sekhon joined the fraternity as an undergraduate student in 2007. He now serves in a leadership position for the alumni group which oversees management of the fraternity’s houses.
“We had a historical analysis done by the same architectural firm that completed the city of Madison’s Historic Preservation Plan, which was adopted back in spring of 2020,” Sekhon said. “Their findings indicated that there was very little historical value, if any, for both of the houses and that the broader context of the two buildings were created in disconnect from the Langdon National Historic District.”
Sekhon says a lot of research had been done prior to the proposal, and there was not a strong historical argument to be made.
But, Sekhon says the most surprising part was the Plan Commission had no discussion or questions after the supporters had been heard.
“They opened up for questions, closed, opened for comments, closed, made the motion, pass[ed] [it] and done. All within the span of five minutes,” Sekhon said. “It’s highly unusual to have no questions or discussion from [the] Plan Commission.”
Because of the lack of discussion and questioning, Sekhon said he felt the decision had already been made by the Plan Commission prior to the meeting, and the proposal was not given adequate consideration based on the arguments put forth.
Sekhon said the way the Plan Commission handled the meeting is not what generally happens.
“We filed the appeal just to keep the application going with [the] city council,” Sekhon said. “My hope is that we’ll be able to have a fair discussion of the proposal and its merits, but it’s really up in the air in terms of how things will play out.”
Sekhon says this project would be a huge improvement for fraternity housing.
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Sekhon said between the two houses, there have been numerous issues from foundational instability to plumbing and electrical issues.
“The existing houses are really just at the end of their use,” Sekhon said. “For the longest time, even before I joined the organization, we had been trying to maintain them and keep up with them as much as possible, but over time all of that just became more and more costly.”
Beyond creating new housing for members of the Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity, the new project would also expand housing options for other students, Sekhon said.
As an eight-story building, Sekhon explained that the five floors of the new space would provide housing to students in a convenient location for a reasonable price in comparison to nearby housing options.
“We’re really opening up the location to students beyond just those that would be members of the fraternity,” Sekhon said. “The houses are very close to Memorial Union and to route 80 buses — it’s a very nice location.”