Affordable rental housing could come to site of Babes Bar & Grill

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Popular west side restaurant Babes Bar & Grill is talking with a developer about bringing affordable housing into its space. The proposal is still in its infancy and, if approved, Babes would likely settle into a smaller location on the first floor of the property.

Right now, the development plan is still only a proposal and is not set in stone. If the developers, Stone House Development, cannot secure affordable housing tax credits, the apartment could not be for income-based housing.

Jim O'Keefe is the Director of Madison's Community Development Division. According to O'Keefe, Madison has one of the lowest rental vacancies in the country, at just 3%.

"A health market is somewhere near 5%," O'Keefe said. "What that translates to is a severe lack of rental housing apartments in general, but it is even more acute with respect to affordable housing."

This proposal falls in line with the City's 2015 initiative to bring more affordable, income-based housing to the City.

"It's one of six proposals like it that is looking for financial assistance," O'Keefe said.

Thursday night residents in the Greentree neighborhood gathered at Falk Elementary school to hear about the proposal from their alders, the developers, and various representatives with the City of Madison.

"Hearing neighborhood input is part of what we do to evaluate these projects," explained O'Keefe.

Residents were also able to voice questions or concerns about the proposal. Many were concerned about the traffic that another apartment building on Schroeder Road would add to the area. Some felt the traffic is already too congested, and that traffic adjustments should be made first.

City Planner Collin Punt said City Engineers and Traffic Engineers also look over projects and plans to make sure they will logistically work for the City. He explained the reconstruct Schroeder Road or intersections on Schroeder Road would cost several million dollars, and it is unlikely that will happen before the Babes property is redeveloped.

Other neighbors expressed concern about the number of affordable housing properties that are already in the neighborhood, and asked if a property like this could be built in another part of town. This question earned a round of applause from the audience of more than 160 people.

Alder Matt Phair represents this area, and he said he hopes neighbors feel they had their questions clarified at the meeting.

"I've heard from people there are concerns about traffic. There's concerns about what kind of mix of tenants will her there. There's concerns about storm water management. There's concern about what kind of impact it will have on schools, school numbers, and things like that," Phair said.

O'Keefe said the next step will be on the City's of end. They will have to decided if they want to fund, and to what extent, the project. He said it would be December before the City would make a decision.