Justice Trips Over Justice

The Madison City Council wants more affordable housing. That’s a laudable goal, but it can’t be accomplished without compromise.

This week the council voted to reject, at least for now, two large projects that could add hundreds of units to the city’s housing stock. On Tuesday night the council voted down an 18-story mixed-use project off John Nolen Drive near the Alliant Energy Center and another project of affordable homes not far from the airport on the North Side.

The reason for nixing the John Nolen project was that it would raze the Wonder Bar building. The Wonder Bar, unfortunately, was closed by the pandemic, but some argue that the building has historic significance because it was frequented by Chicago mobsters in the 1930’s.

Now, you gotta wonder about the Wonder Bar. In their meeting before this one the Council voted down an ordinance amendment designed to preserve the sliver of a view from the Lamp House because, as one progressive alder put it, it was owned by “a rich, dead, white man.” Last I checked, mobsters were almost exclusively rich (though not necessarily for tax purposes), white men who are now dead. Also, they killed people. Now, some will point out that many were probably Cubs fans and that should have been punishment enough, but why exactly is a progressive City Council looking to preserve the legacy of murderers — murder being a crime at least as bad as being male, white, rich and dead?

The Wonder Bar building stands in the way of more housing.

The proposal by the McGrath development company is likely to come back, but only after they deal somehow with the Wonder Bar problem. Whatever the solution is, it’s likely to be expensive and those costs will be passed on to the new building’s renters. All to preserve a building that nobody even bothered to protect with city landmark status before this proposal emerged.

The second rejection was for another large housing project, this one for 97 single family homes plus several apartment buildings on 63 acres of open land between North Sherman and Packers avenues. The Council rejected this one because it’s in the flight path of the F-35 fighter jets that are to be stationed at Truax Field in the next year or two — never mind that the developer offered to delay development on the east side of the parcel, where the decibel readings of concern are projected to occur, until at least 2027, when we should know more about the actual impact of the jets.

According to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal, “Council President Syed Abbas, 12th District, said he’s been appreciative of the developer working with community members to try and improve the project, but his opposition stemmed from an “environmental justice standpoint.””

It seems to me that justice overall would be better served by letting people who need affordable housing decide for themselves whether they want to deal with the occasional noise from a loud jet in exchange for a good place to live at a price they can afford.

So, this Council wants more affordable housing built and yet it rejects two very sizable projects, one because it would take down a house frequented by violent criminals and the other because the area might get exposed to some loud noises from aircraft. And the net result is that people who need affordable housing won’t get it anytime soon.

Where’s the justice in that?

Welcome to the 169th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

3 thoughts on “Justice Trips Over Justice

  1. I’m with you on the Wonder Bar, but have you heard those planes? I can’t imagine living in the flight path – it is bad enough when they buzz by McFarland.


  2. Dave, you’re making too much sense lately. You are definitely diverging from the liberal ideologues. Really enjoy reading your posts!


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