Council Meeting of 11/21 Overview


Hi friends,

There is so much to update you on and not enough time. Please see an overview of tonight's council meeting as there are some important items. And please bear with me and stay tuned for more updates on downtown and the city!

Common Council 11/21, 6:30p

This week has a few items that are important and impact housing plans. 

  • Agenda Item 2: Amending the Downtown Height Map in its relation to Brayton Lot

At this point I feel as though I've said my piece on the height map changes multiple times, multiple different ways. Feel free to read my previous blogs to learn more about the issue and my position. 

Again we lose nothing by seeing what's behind Door 2. At the end of the day, Council holds all decision-making power when it comes to developing the property. Affordability is far more nuanced than what is being communicated by opposition. At the end of the day, the RFP will be far more important the height map amendment. 

I hope that a majority of my colleagues agree that seeing what's behind Door 2 is a far better option than falling for the hypotheticals and what-ifs. There are many examples of higher density developments that retain units at the 30-50% income level, including St. John's, the Madison Mark, and NoVo apartments. We should allow developers to be as creative and flexible as possible to maximize affordable housing and benefit to Madison.

I am grateful to the many people that have weighed into this change. Special thanks to the Marquette Neighborhood Association for your support of this change. It's exciting to see people recognize this as an opportunity to use all the available tools, including land banking, tax credit programs, etc. to place affordable housing in the heart of downtown Madison.

  • Agenda Item 3: Amending the Downtown Height Map to update the North Broom Street Area

In similar news, Ald. Verveer and Govindarajan are sponsoring a height map revision to support additional stories for the affordability aspect of Core Spaces' Johnson and Broom development. With all these height map revisions, maybe we should look at updating the whole plan!

  • Agenda Item 4: Adopting an amendment to the City of Madison Comprehensive Plan

As some of you may be aware, we are on the tail end of our 5-year Comp Plan update. YAYYYY!!! Amazing job to everyone that took the time to engage in the process and to staff for helping us get through this process. 

One of the more contentious items that will be considered tonight is the "escalator clause". This issue has more of a direct impact on areas zoned for low-medium residential (LMR). As a result, this change does not have that much of a direct impact on District 2, as thankfully, none of our area is zoned for LMR. Though this change may impact other areas of the city to create more housing opportunities and indirectly reducing stress on the downtown area to be the sole source of housing development in the city. 

What does escalator clause mean in this context? 

This is information about the escalator clause on page 3-4 of the 11/13 Plan Commission Staff Memo. See image and explanation below. 

Escalator Clause Chart

The image above defines the escalator clause as highlighted in yellow and applies only to the areas with two asterisks, "permitted in select conditions at up to DU/ac and four stories, generally along arterial streets." This means that small multifamily, large multifamily, and courtyard multifamily buildings are allowed in LMR neighborhoods only along arterial streets with select conditions (70 dwelling units and four stories). 

**Arterial streets are defined as "An Arterial Street is a high-capacity roadway that connect neighborhoods or activity centers to each other or downtown. Typical daily traffic volumes are above 10,000 vehicles per day." See image below of all arterial streets in Madison

Arterial Streets

The escalator clause would essentially allow more housing to be built along major traffic routes. It is important to build housing in places with linkages to things important to people's success in their daily lives (ie. grocery stores, healthcare facilities, and schools). 

There is concern that about how allows a modest increase in density in neighborhoods that have grown accustomed to limited density and growth. For this reason, it is expected that an alder will introduce an alternate to the escalator clase to say that it is "Appropriate in select conditions at up to 70 DU/ac and four stories, except for parts of the city with an Area Plan adopted after the 2023 Comprehensive Plan Interim Update. Factors to be considered include relationships between proposed buildings and their surroundings, natural features, lot and block characteristics, and access to urban services, transit, arterial streets, parks, and amenities." This amendment would threaten the net positive of the escalator clause in that it allows all future, except for the Northside Area Plan (since it was already completed) to ignore the escalator clause. 

It is understandable that the is apprehension to increased density. More density means change and change can be good and bad. Though in a city where our housing pressures are only getting worse, we need to support housing opportunities throughout the city. Downtown Madison can no longer be the sole source of density. Even modest increases in density would produce a significant decrease in pressure on our overall housing system. 

  • Agenda Item 29: Authorizing a process for Percent for Art projects and establishing the Ad Hoc State Street Campus Garage/Hawthorne Court Public Art Committee

I am elated to see that there is an opportunity to do a REALLY COOL public art project in Hawthorne Court for the Lake Street Campus Garage. For this, the percent for art program will provide about $500,000 for a public art project. The committee will engage the campus and state street area community and business members in a process to choose a project that best meets the needs and desires of the area. Stay tuned for updates!

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Alder Juliana Bennet

Alder Juliana Bennett

District 2
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