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Change is coming to Zion Lutheran Church site

Threshold Development has proposed sustainably built, multi-family housing for the vacated Zion Lutheran Church property. The congregation has moved out, merged and begun worshiping with Lakeview Moravian Community Church in the Eastmoreland neighborhood.

March 23, 2022 |
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This is how the 32-unit apartment building proposed for the Zion Lutheran Church property would look from the corner of Dunning Street at Linden Avenue.

By Alisyn Amant, Eastside News

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church had struggled financially for years before its leaders decided to reach out to Threshold Development about selling its site. After extensive discussion amongst the congregation about the future of the property, a plan to demolish the church for sustainably built, multi-family housing has been proposed. The proposal continues to make its way through the city of Madison Common Council’s committees.

Across the country, small churches like Zion have faced shrinking congregation sizes and a resultant lack of resources. Many are ultimately forced to sell community properties they can no longer afford to maintain. The tentative repurposing of Zion’s physical site, 2615 Linden Ave., marked the development trend’s arrival in Madison.

Threshold Development is a second-generation company with numerous projects in and connected to the Madison area. However, Tyler Krupp-Qureshi, the company’s development lead, noted that Zion’s situation is uncharted.

“On these church sites, cities never really anticipate them ‘going out of business,’” he said. As a result, the process has been long and complex.

Ultimately, Zion’s fate allowed for a reevaluation of how religious communities may operate in an environment where physical spaces for worship services become less common. The congregation merged and began worshiping with Lakeview Moravian Community Church in the Eastmoreland neighborhood, becoming a Federated Congregation, which means they are two legally separate congregations but appear and act as a unified congregation named Common Grace.

“A number of the congregations are really rethinking their purpose and how they bring people together,” District 15 Alder Grant Foster said. “They are trying to refocus around being positive, social organizations.”

However it ends, neighborhood accessibility and sustainability remain at the top of the company’s priorities, Krupp-Qureshi said. The possibility of the 32-unit apartment building’s design as adhering to passive design — an ultra-low energy standard — was floated around during initial discussions.

“We’re helping a church that was in distress, finding a way to use the resources to serve the community through redevelopment,” Krupp-Qureshi said. “It’s an opportunity to help the church, but it’s also an opportunity to do a kind of exemplar, sustainable housing project.”

“On these church sites, cities never really anticipate them ‘going out of business.’”

Brad Hinkfuss, a community member heavily involved with the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Association, commended the progress the area has made in recent years and welcomed the idea of an affordable and sustainable residential building.

“Overall, I think that this neighborhood is being reborn and for the better,” Hinkfuss said. “But we are also victims of our own success. Property values and costs are way too high. Lots and lots of people want to move here, but few can find housing — and what they find they can’t afford. We are not as diverse racially and economically as most of us would like.”

For the possible changes to the Zion property itself, community members have expressed mixed opinions. Foster inherited the decision-making process surrounding Zion’s future when redistricting moved the church’s location from District 6 to his own District 15. He’s heard from numerous constituents, all diverging in their visions.

“Both sides feel pretty strongly,” Foster said. “Some are very concerned and do not support the proposal as is. And I’ve heard from a fair number of people that think it’s a really good project, and it’s a good opportunity to add needed housing.”

“There is no one right answer,” Hinkfuss said. “We are all naturally concerned with what happens on the property across the street or down the block from us.”

The Urban Design Commission hosted a presentation on the project in January. Foster stated that the next steps include a planning commission to iron out details and a final vote by the Common Council in March.

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