Alder Mark Clear
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
WI Relay Service
An urban oasis
At the end of 2011, the city more than doubled the size of tiny Merrill Springs Park, expanding the historic lakeshore gem from about 1/4 acre to a little more than half an acre. In addition to providing more breathing room, the acquisition preserved more than 50 feet of lakefront for public use and enjoyment forever.
The newly purchased property came with a small cottage that the previous owners had used as rental property. Originally a boathouse, the tiny one-room cottage overlooks the park and has a great view of the lake from the windows and a small deck. The cottage needs some TLC, but is overall in good condition.
There are several options for the cottage, including demolishing it. But the option that intrigues me the most would be to make it available for short-term overnight rental.The small size of the building would most likely make it suitable only for 2 adults to stay there.
The concept of a city or town offering a rental cabin or cottage on municipally-owned park land for vacationers is actually fairly widespread in the U.S., but the opportunity to stay overnight in an urban lakefront park would be unique in Madison and perhaps nationally. Before it could happen, though, there are many concerns and obstacles that would need to be addressed.
The foremost obstacle is that the nearby residents of the Spring Harbor neighborhood are almost universally opposed to the idea. The park is small and is located in a dense but very quiet residential area, at the end of a dead-end street with no parking specific to the park. Neighbors are justifiably worried that the rental would add noise, traffic and litter which would disturb the peaceful setting and wear on the fragile park. Additional concerns are that it could change the public nature of the park, interfere with other users, cost money, create safety problems and require parking to be constructed.
These concerns are valid and would need to be addressed should a proposal for the cottage rental move forward. We would need to have a business and operational plan that would show how the property would be managed, ensure that problems are prevented when possible and resolved if they occur. The plan would need to outline costs for renovation, maintenance and operations, along with expected revenue.
I would like to see such a proposal drafted and then vetted by the neighborhood, other city residents, and the Parks Commission. If well-received, the next step would be a trial, with specific criteria for what constitutes success.
Why do this at all, especially with significant neighborhood opposition?
For me, the cottage represents a way to give more Madisonians the chance to do something that only a fortunate few can do now: wake up to a sunrise over Lake Mendota.
Public lakeshore--especially Mendota lakeshore, almost all of which is private--is a precious and limited resource. Acquiring the new property to expand the park was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it was expensive. That means we have a responsibility to ensure that the park gets the highest and best use and that everyone in the city has an equal
opportunity to enjoy this investment.
If we are going to protect our lakes, we need more people to value them as much as the folks in the Spring Harbor neighborhood do. Most people in Madison have little or no regular connection to the lakes. They spend their lives in the mall or on the Beltline and don't interact with them on a regular basis. Look at how many people still put their leaves in the street in the fall, despite many years of education about how it harms the lakes. People in Spring Harbor don't do that, because they understand their connection to Lake Mendota. But in many neighborhoods, including mine, lots of them do. They wash their cars in their driveway and dump soap suds in the storm sewer. They oppose storm water management projects that help protect the lakes. It's not because they're stubborn, it's just that they don't have an emotional connection that encourages them to think about lake quality all the time.
If we're going to save our lakes, we have to get more people to care. Maybe this cottage idea can do a little of that, one couple at a time.
I welcome your questions and comments about this or any other city issue. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-695-5709.
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