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Alder Tag Evers

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Alder Tag Evers

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2329 Keyes Av

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Common Council Office:
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Room 417
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
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Alder Evers’ Blog

South Madison Plan Goes to Council Tonight

January 4, 2022 6:56 AM

Happy New Year everyone. New beginnings, new hope, and the courage to dream big as we move forward in 2022!

Tonight, at the first Common Council meeting of the new year, we will be discussing the South Madison Plan (SMP).

As a co-sponsor of the resolution to Adopt the South Madison Plan, I strongly support the majority of the SMP and believe it to be a positive step forward for this critical area of our City.

However, I believe the Plan can be improved with two modest changes involving the Thorstad Concept Area, one of three concept areas included in the Plan:

A) Swap out the original Thorstad Focus Area and swap in the Thorstad Focus Area Alternative as articulated by staff in response to Boards/Commissions/Committees (BCC) input and included in the SMP Presentation to Plan Commission on December 13, 2021

B) Change the land use recommendations in the Thorstad Focus Area Alternative for Sections A & B from Low Residential to Low-Medium Residential, still allowing for single-family detached homes, but also allowing for other building forms, including townhouses and row houses.

Following SMP's introduction on November 2, 2021, the SMP went to seven BCCs before landing at Plan Commission on December 13, 2021. In response to BCC input calling for more density in the Thorstad Concept Area, staff prepared a Thorstad Concept Area Alternative, which was included in the staff presentation to Plan Commission.

The original Thorstad Concept Area included the following:

  • Low Residential category consists of 104 single family homes (54 - 4000 sqft lots plus 50 cottage homes)
  • 16 units of low-medium residential described as townhouses presumably owner-occupied
  • 120 units in two 5-story mixed used bldgs.
  • Total units 240, 120 of which are suggested as owner-occupied.

The Thorstad Concept Area Alternative made modest changes:

  • Low Residential increased to 115 single family homes (65 - 3000 sqft lots plus 50 cottage homes)
  • 44 units of townhouses presumably owner occupied
  • 240 units in two 8 - story mixed use buildings
  • Total units 399, 159 of which are designated as owner-occupied

The Alternative recommends an 11% increase in single-family detached homes, a 33% increase in homes designated for owner-occupancy, and a 66 % increase in overall density.  

(Note, there's no reason why all the units couldn't be stipulated for owner-occupancy. CDA is planning an owner-occupied affordable housing multi-family project in the northern section of the Village on Park redevelopment site.)

Changing the Low Residential section of the Thorstad Concept Area Alternative to Low-Medium would increase the total of Low-Medium zoned units from 44 to 159, a sizable increase of 261%. A range of housing options would be available, including, but not limited to, single-family detached homes.

Home ownership is the key, but we need to be careful not to conflate home ownership with single-family housing. There's no reason to limit ownership to those who purchase a single-family home.

The key question before us is this: Why not expand this option of affordable wealth-building to a greater number of residents, particularly given the high cost and relative scarcity of public resources to subsidize these units?  

It's indisputable that Madison is facing a profound housing crisis. It will only get worse if we do not concentrate our efforts on expanding housing options and increasing density in future neighborhoods like Thorstad.

It's also indisputable that we are in a global climate crisis. Single-family homes are less energy-efficient than townhouses, for example. Moreover, emphasizing low-density residential in Thorstad would require building more housing away from transit, which will not help us meet our critically important climate goals.

A variety of affordable housing options and building forms, including single-family, but also townhouses, row houses, and small to medium multi-family owner-occupied apartments, would effectively combine the goals of resisting gentrification and displacement while allowing for generational wealth-building.

It's a fallacy that single-family homes in Thorstad, in and of themselves, will stave off gentrification and displacement. Given that gentrification is a matter of affordability, the Plan recognizes the Thorstad neighborhood will require significant public investment to mitigate the otherwise deleterious impacts of the speculative real estate market. Which is why we should add density to this area to efficiently expand affordable home ownership options to a greater number of South Madison residents. 

Simply put, we would get more bang for our buck by offering a greater variety of housing forms all geared toward affordable ownership. 

Staff recommendations for the original Thorstad Concept Area do not comport with the direction the City is going with Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). The Plan recognizes TOD is necessary for the success of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), while also being essential for the success of brick-and-mortar retail along South Park. The Plan recognizes a healthy retail mix makes for a walkable neighborhood, a desirable quality for residents.

In other words, a requisite amount of density is essential for the success of BRT and for the future vitality of the Thorstad neighborhood.

I understand the need for home ownership as a means of generational wealth-building, but I am not of the opinion a neighborhood heavily weighted in favor of single-family homes proximate to the future BRT line on South Park is the correct policy choice.

The SMP recognizes the desire for older empty-nesters in South Madison to downsize close to their neighborhoods, and to do so while retaining home ownership. We see this in District 13 on the near-west side with the condos above Trader Joe's on Monroe Street. There's not that much interest, however, in the "picket fence" option that the original Thorstad Concept Area is putting forth; elderly residents generally want to get away from yard work and snow shoveling.

By way of review: The Thorstad Concept Area Alternative increases single-family housing by 11%, home-ownership options by 33%, and density by 66%. The Thorstad Concept Area Alternative is a measured improvement over the original Thorstad Concept Area.

In fact, as I've noted above, all units should be designated as owner-occupied options, including those in the multi-family buildings along South Park. Staff and my Council colleagues are aware this can be done. The CDA project at Village On Park calls for an owner-occupied affordable housing/multi-family apartment building to be constructed in the northern-most section of the project area.

I have great sympathy for the argument that racist polices implemented by banks and allowed by the City in decades past limited home-ownership options, including single-family homes, for Black residents of South Madison. Unfortunately, FHA guidelines will severely restrict the City's ability to offer redress based on race. 

Nonetheless, with careful planning, I believe it's possible to embrace our shared values and policy priorities around racial equity, affordable housing, and climate change. It's imperative we don't make the mistake of placing these values in opposition to each other, but instead work diligently to harmonize them to the greatest extent possible.

I'll be bringing an amendment to the Council floor to include these two changes to the SMP. I encourage you to share your input on this matter.You may send comments to allalders@cityofmadison.com. You can register your support or opposition to this agenda item (#47, Legistar 68084) at https://www.cityofmadison.com/MeetingRegistration. If you wish to speak at the virtual meeting on this agenda item, you must register. You can register at https://www.cityofmadison.com/MeetingRegistration. When you register to speak, you will be sent an email with the information you will need to join the virtual meeting.

Take care, stay safe, and be careful on the ice!

Tag




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