Rendering of St. John's Lutheran Church

An artistic rendering of proposed St. John's apartment building.

A downtown church is proposing a major redevelopment of its 165-year-old building that would include worship and community space and a large affordable housing development.

The Urban Design Commission will receive an informational presentation about the development proposed for St. John’s Lutheran Church, 322 E. Washington Ave., on Wednesday night. The building would be 10 stories and is expected to have approximately 122 units, the vast majority of which will be affordable.

About a year-and-a-half ago, St. John’s began the process of seeking a partner with whom they could redevelop the church site. Following a formal RFP process, the church decided to partner with local developer Mark Binkowski, who is a majority shareholder in Urban Land Interests but is operating as an independent developer.

“I’ve been working with St. John’s for about a year now on this project,” Binkowski said. “They knew that there was an opportunity with their site and wanted to work with a local developer for this pretty unique project.”

If approved, the first floor of the building will be used by St. John’s for its worship services as well as community outreach efforts. The upper nine floors will hold 122 units, 85% of which will be designated as affordable, according to Binkowski.

“This is really intended to further St. John’s mission by being a true affordable building with 85% of units being affordable,” Binkowski said. “This is a mission-driven development.”

Many housing developments have a majority of market rate units with a relatively smaller number of units set aside for affordable housing. By being majority affordable, the project could help grow affordable housing options downtown.

The building will offer affordable units at three different rates of discount. They are expected to offer rates of 30, 50 and 60% of the County Median Income (which is approximately $73,893 for a household and $38,191 for an individual).

The building has gone through a number of iterations over the years after being built in 1856 and is not considered a historic landmark or site.

The presentation at UDC will be strictly informational at this time. Binkowski estimates that they will begin the formal land use application process next spring or summer. Because the building is proposed for 10 stories, they will need conditional use approval from the Plan Commission and zoning approved by the city.

“The bonus stories are really critical to build this because most of the units will be affordable,” Binkowski said. “We need to maximize the density in order to be able to pay for the project.”

Project leaders will seek affordable housing funding from the city of Madison and Dane County, and they plan to apply for federal tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.

St. John’s has been involved in issues around homelessness and housing insecurity for a long time in the downtown area. Prior to the pandemic, St. John’s was utilized by Porchlight as an overnight homeless shelter.

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