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Madison Transit-Oriented Zoning to Include Historic Districts

In a 14-5 vote the Wisconsin capital’s City Council approved the creation of a “Transit-Oriented Development Overlay District” and includes some areas that have had, historically, predominantly single-family housing.

(TNS) — Some local historic districts will be subject to new zoning changes that could allow higher-density housing to more easily move in with the blessing of the Madison, Wisc., City Council Tuesday night.

The council voted 14-5 to create a " Transit Oriented Development Overlay District" within a quarter-mile of bus rapid transit routes, a move that will boost housing near the upcoming revamp of the city's public transportation.

With a redesign of the city's bus routes coming in the summer, passing the overlay district is crucial before that "major transit investment takes place, said Heather Stouder, the city's planning division director.

Apart from its aim to put more people closer to more transit, the overlay district would effectively make it easier to erect duplexes in parts of neighborhoods mostly made up of single-family homes. Because of that, the overlay district has seen pushback from some residents in single-family neighborhoods like University Hill Farms, who claim more duplexes would remake the neighborhood's aesthetic.

Despite the pushback, some residents of Hill Farms told the council Tuesday night that those fears are a veiled effort to keep renters, especially the poor and people of color, out of the city's wealthy, white enclaves.

"The pattern of single-family zoning that dominates many of the historic districts is also linked to a history of exclusion," said resident Liz Jesse. "For example, residents of Hill Farms who live in high-density apartment buildings are allowed to pay dues but they are not allowed to be voting members of our association."

Ald. Keith Furman, 19th District, pushed back on opposition from Hill Farms residents, saying it amounted to people satisfied that "they've got theirs and they're not interested in changing the character of their neighborhoods because they're good."

"Let's be realistic folks we're in a housing crisis," Furman said. "Density does not change the character of a neighborhood."

Alds. Brian Benford, Barbara Harrington-McKinney, Charles Myadze, Bill Tishler and Nasra Wehelie voted against the overlay district.

The overly district excludes Downtown and UW-Madison's campus, which extends to the Mansion Hill and First Settlement local historic districts.

The city's local historic districts that have land in the overlay district include University Heights, Third Lake Ridge and Marquette Bungalows.

But just because the overlay district encompasses historic areas does not mean new development can easily breeze through approval. Those areas are still subject to the city's Preservation Ordinance, which allows oversight over any changes and new structures.

But nine National Register Historic Districts not subject to the same protections have land within the overlay district.

The original vision overlay district excluded the historic districts, but an alternative proposal was introduced by the city's Transportation Policy and Planning Board to include the districts, and the alternative was recommended by the Plan Commission.

Furman said he introduced the change to include all historic districts because local historic districts already have those ample protections while national ones don't have any and it wasn't prudent for the city to start adding them.

The core changes of the overlay district include:

—Allowing more residential units as a permitted use in residential, mixed-use and certain employment zoning districts.

—Allowing additional building height as a permitted use in some residential and mixed-use districts.

—Removing usable open space requirements for residential units.

—Removing minimum vehicle parking requirements and adding tighter maximum parking limits.

—A minimum two-story building height, with some exceptions, in multifamily residential, mixed-use and employment districts.

—Additional site design and layout rules to ensure buildings are near and easily accessible from public sidewalks.

In a failed bid at "compromise," Ald. Tag Evers, 13th District, offered a change to the overlay district ordinance that would require any new duplexes to be owner-occupied, saying it would prevent real estate investors from flipping homes in historic districts. That change to the ordinance ultimately lost, with opponents saying it undermined the purpose of the overlay district and didn't fix the general issue of absent landlords at duplexes throughout the city.

In other business, council members signed off on rezoning the site of St. John's Lutheran Church for future development and receipt of $1.5 million in election grants from a nonprofit that saw controversy for its role in the 2020 election.

The money from the Center for Tech & Civic Life (CTCL) would give the city $500,000 this year and $1 million in 2024 for planning and operating safe and secure elections, which can go toward equipment, staff training and technology.

CTCL has fallen into the crosshairs of conservatives, particular the 2020 election probe of former Supreme Court Michael Gableman, for grants it doled out to more than 200 cities. Conservatives have unsuccessfully tried to challenge CTCL's grants in courts and Republicans in the state Legislature are trying to get a constitutional amendment on the April 4 ballot that would ban such grants.

The nearly $36 million redevelopment plans for St. John's located at 322 E. Washington Ave., will replace the church with a 10-story structure with a sanctuary, community space and 130 mostly low-cost apartment units with below-ground parking.

With major turnover coming after April's election, the council also signed off Tuesday on the appointment of Barbara Vedder to serve out the term of Syed Abbas, who resigned from his post representing the 12th District last year.

Vedder was a City Council member from 1995 to 2001 and a member of the County Board from 2006 to 2010.

(c)2023 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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