Couple resumes controversial bid to build house by landmark Old Spring Tavern

After withdrawing an earlier proposal, a couple once again is seeking to build a home on a vacant lot next to the landmark, mid-1800s Old Spring Tavern by the UW Arboretum on Madison’s Near West Side.

And again, historic preservationists are opposing the project as too big for the site, among other reasons, and thus calling into question whether it can win city approval.

In mid-May, former Nakoma neighborhood residents Jon and Brenda Furlow withdrew an application to the city’s Landmarks Commission to build a two-story, 4,492-square-foot home with a two-car garage on a quarter-acre lot at 3701 Council Crest, behind the tavern.

The two-story former tavern at 3706 Nakoma Road was built just before the start of the Civil War and used as a stagecoach stop for travelers to and from western Wisconsin. The building was converted from a tavern and hotel into a private residence in 1895, and the grounds surrounding it were named a city landmark in 1972 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The tavern lot and vacant lot are part of the landmark site.

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Now, the Furlows have submitted an application to build a home of the same size as previously proposed while preserving a historic black walnut tree that’s perhaps 250 years old and sticking to other details of the earlier proposal. But the new proposal attempts to better show the scale of the home in relation to the tavern and contends construction will improve stormwater management in the area.

“We were confident when we filed our original application that our home was consistent in the style and scale of the Nakoma neighborhood,” Jon Furlow said. “But we decided to look at that further, and we were able to review architectural drawings of the tavern. Based on that review, we were able to confirm that our planned home was also consistent in scale with the tavern home.

Proposed home

A rendering of Jon and Brenda Furlow’s proposed home at 3701 Council Crest in the Nakoma neighborhood. To the lower left is the landmark Old Spring Tavern, 3706 Nakoma Road.

“We hired an engineer to conduct a study and propose a design to address water drainage … and it shows that after we build our home there will be less water draining toward the tavern home than is currently draining toward the tavern from the empty lot,” he said. “So, overall we are really comfortable with our plans.”

The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, which contends the property is one of the city’s most significant historic sites, disagrees with many of the Furlows’ conclusions and remains opposed to the plan.

The proposal has multiple features that disqualify it under at least four of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation, including the home’s height and overall size, proximity to the tavern, changes to the landmark property’s west yard, and threat to the black walnut tree, a letter to be submitted the Landmarks Commission says.

“Taken as a whole, the proposal to place a 4,500-square-foot house on this landmark property very close to the landmark tavern unquestionably fails to protect and promote this historic site,” it says.

The Landmarks Commission is scheduled to consider the proposal Aug. 14. City preservation planner Heather Bailey said she has not finalized her recommendations and expects to file a staff report next week.

Any new construction proposed within the boundary of a designated landmark property, which includes both lots, requires review by the Landmarks Commission, Bailey said. No other city committees, boards or commissions would be involved. Any development on a landmark site also must comply with the federal Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.

The standards protect archeological resources; ensure construction doesn’t destroy historic materials, features and spatial relationships that characterize the property; and ensure construction is done in a way that, if removed, doesn’t impact the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment.

The two major considerations for the commission are whether the proposed new construction blends with the setting of the tavern, and how the construction will change site drainage toward the tavern, Bailey said.

The former tavern’s most recent long-term owners, John and Linda Stowe, lived at the property from 1997 to 2022. In April 2022, David Gordon’s company, 3706 Nakoma Road LLC, bought the property for $1.1 million. In the fall of 2022, Gordon won city approval despite adamant opposition to adjust the lot lines so the second, vacant parcel has more space to accommodate a new home. He then sold the lots.

The Furlows, who lived on Oneida Place in Nakoma for 22 years, moved to Minneapolis for job-related reasons in 2015, but are now in a position to relocate back to Madison and bought the lot at 3701 Council Crest to return to the Nakoma neighborhood.

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