Redevelopment proposal for church near Capitol includes 10-story building with affordable housing, sanctuary

MADISON, Wis — A church just three blocks from the Wisconsin State Capitol could soon be demolished to make way for a 10-story building that would house not just the house of worship but also more than 100 units of affordable housing.

Redevelopment plans for the property currently home to St. John’s Lutheran Church are still in the early stages. On Wednesday evening, project leaders shared their concept with the city’s Urban Design Commission.

That concept, the latest proposal to add housing density along the rapidly-changing East Washington Avenue corridor, calls for removing the more than 100-year-old church at the corner of East Washington Avenue and North Hancock Street.

“We are currently working on this project to do one of the most substantial redevelopments of our site,” lead pastor Peter Beeson said.

The first floor of the building would house the church, including its sanctuary and fellowship spaces, as well as space for the church’s existing partners.

“From our emergency fund where we give away $40,000 a year in low-cost, small-denomination amounts for rental assistance, transportation, etc., to providing free space for the Porchlight overnight men’s shelter until the pandemic relocated it,” Beeson said.

To preserve the church’s character, the project includes plans to utilize stone elements and ideally repurpose some of the existing stained glass windows.

The remaining nine floors will include 126 apartments, 85% of which will be reserved for people earning below 60% of the county’s median income.

“I think it’s important to highlight that this is not just a multi-family with some low-income units but really the goal for this development to maximize the amount and availability of affordable housing,” Mark Binkowski, a project leader from Urban Land Interests, said.

Parking underneath the building would be accessible from North Hancock Street.

Given its mission, project leaders hope they will be granted an exception to the area’s eight-story height limit.

“I anticipate that the fact that this proposal includes truly affordable housing, that those two bonus floors as we sometimes call them might have some support in the neighborhood and in (the) Common Council,” District 2 Alder Patrick Heck, who represents the area, said, “but we shall see.”