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Current events can create potential issues in real estate development. At the heart of Smart Growth is our advocacy work; we stay atop all information that affects our area, advocating for our members and keeping our community informed.

  • New Middleton Zoning Ordinance
    In 2021, the City of Middleton began the process of preparing a new Zoning Ordinance and Map. The purposes of this project are to modernize zoning regulations, streamline zoning processes, encourage reinvestment, and implement the City’s Comprehensive Plan. In summer 2023, the city government released a first public draft of the new zoning code, which was the product of a workgroup consisting of city staff, an outside consultant, and a few stakeholders, with input at various times from the Plan Commission. A primary focus of the new zoning code is to provide enough varied zoning districts so that, in theory, the vast majority of development projects can be facilitated by conventional zoning. This will enable the city government to discourage the use of Planned Development zoning for development projects. Smart Growth provided feedback on this first draft on issues such as the provisions requiring parking places with charging equipment for electric vehicles (EVs). On October 25, 2023, the city government released a public hearing draft of the new zoning ordinance. A number of concerns Smart Growth raised regarding the first draft were addressed in the public hearing draft of the new zoning ordinance. The public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, November 14. Smart Growth will provide feedback on the public hearing draft of the new zoning ordinance before or during the public hearing.
  • Madison Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Ordinance
    In January 2023, the Madison Common Council adopted an ordinance establishing a transit-oriented development (TOD) overlay district. The Common Council's consideration of this ordinance was delayed for two weeks to allow more time to inform the public that the Transportation Policy and Planning Board and Plan Commission had recommended changing the ordinance to include parcels in the local historic preservation districts and the National Register historic districts. There was considerable controversy about this change in the ordinance. The Common Council adopted the ordinance in a form that incorporated the recommendations to include the historic districts. The TOD overlay zoning district spans 1/4 mile on each side of the east-west BRT route and other high-frequency transit routes. The TOD overlay zoning district makes various adjustments to underlying “base” zoning districts to allow more intensive development while adding design regulations to improve walkability in the portions of Madison best-served by transit. The most prominent adjustments within the TOD overlay are: Allowing additional residential dwelling units as a permitted use in residential, mixed-use, and select employment zoning districts Allowing additional building height as a permitted use in some multi-family residential and mixed- use zoning districts Removing usable open space requirements for residential dwelling units Removing minimum automobile parking requirements and adding tighter maximum parking limits A minimum 2-story building height in multi-family residential, mixed-use, and employment districts Additional site layout/design regulations to ensure that buildings are close to and easily accessible from public sidewalks. Smart Growth supported enactment of the TOD ordinance despite the requirement for buildings to be at least two stories tall, because it will permit greater development density.
  • Madison Mandatory Building Energy Benchmarking and Tune Ups Ordinance
    Starting in 2021, staff of Mayor Rhodes-Conway’s office began circulating the outline of a proposed ordinance that would require owners of commercial buildings (excluding multi-family residential buildings) to file annual report on the energy usage of the entire buildings and requiring buildings to have energy “tune ups” every few years. Smart Growth provided extensive information about how much owners of commercial buildings already are investing in increasing the energy efficiency of their buildings and how owners of multi-tenant commercial buildings will not have access to the information needed to report the energy usage of the entire building. In July 2022, Mayor Rhodes-Conway and alders brushed aside this information and announced they would be introducing an ordinance that exactly matched the earlier outline. In staff-led workshops about the ordinance, Smart Growth and many other stakeholders raised more issues with the feasibility of the concept for the proposed ordinance. In addition, Smart Growth pointed out there is no data from cities that have enacted similar ordinances showing the amount of energy savings caused by a mandatory benchmarking ordinance—there is data that shows how much energy consumption decreased after enactment of the ordinance, but that does not separate the amount of reduction that would have occurred without the ordinance from any additional reduction caused by the ordinance. Again, all of this feedback were brushed aside, and ordinance just like the initial outline was formally introduced in January 2023. During committee hearings on the ordinance, Smart Growth and other stakeholders raised many concerns about the ordinance. Finally, this feedback resulted in the introduction of a substitute version of the ordinance to address many of the issues raised. The Common Council adopted the substitute version of the ordinance in March 2023. The ordinance established the general terms of the mandatory building energy benchmarking and tune ups program, which was euphemistically called the “Building Energy Savings Program.” But the ordinance left many details needed for implementation, such as the “handbook” for the tune ups, to be written by staff at a later date. Smart Growth has repeated communicated to city staff that our members are eager to work collaboratively with city staff on the details of how the program will be implemented.
  • Madison Ordinance to Encourage More Housing Development
    In June 2021, the Madison Common Council adopted an ordinance which increased the number of housing units which can be included in a development project while still qualifying as a permitted use rather than requiring a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). The ordinance made this change in number of higher-density residential, mixed-use and commercial zoning districts: SR-V1, SR-V2, TR-V2, TR-U1, TR-U2, TR-P, NMX, TSS, MXC, CC-T and CC. This should allow more housing and mixed-use projects to proceed as permitted uses rather than requiring a CUP in these zoning districts. Avoiding the CUP process eliminates uncertainty and reduces time and expense, all of which are the enemies of development projects. ​ In addition, the ordinance increased the maximum allowed density a variety of residential and mixed-use zoning districts. In mixed-use districts, the ordinance made it possible obtain approval of housing-only buildings (no retail/commercial space on the ground floor) and reduced the amount of retail/commercial space required on the ground floor of mixed-use buildings. ​ Smart Growth strongly supports this proposed ordinance and hopes it will be a model for future ordinances to encourage more housing development in Madison.
  • Madison Transportation Demand Management
    Learn about Smart Growth's concerns and questions about the proposed new TDM program for Madison: READ MORE Additionally, read the changes proposed to the new TDM program by the City Transportation Department. READ MORE
  • White Paper Re: Impacts on the Supply and Price of Housing in Madison
    This paper published on February 17, 2022, explains the impacts of recent Madison city government actions on the supply and price of housing. READ MORE
  • Madison Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Ordinance
    Starting in 2021, new multi-family housing buildings, mixed-use buildings and certain commercial buildings must provide EV charging parking spaces. The initial drafts of the ordinance would have required a considerable investment in EV charging infrastructure upon enactment of the ordinance. But because of much communication between Smart Growth and other concerned business groups and the primary sponsor of the ordinance, Alder Abbas, the requirements during the first five years of the ordinance are more reasonable. ​ During 2021 through 2025, if a new multi-family housing building has 6 or more parking spaces, at least 2% of the parking spaces must include at least a Level 2 EV charging station and at least 10 % of the parking spaces must have empty conduit and space in the breaker box to provide them with EV charging stations in the future to meet future demand. ​ During 2021 through 2025, if a new building for a college or university, hotel, motel, hospital, medical clinic, offices or a school, or a new private parking facility, at least 1% of the parking spaces must include at least a Level 2 EV charging station and at least 10 % of the parking spaces must have empty conduit and space in the breaker box to provide them with EV charging stations in the future to meet future demand. ​ The following land uses are exempt from this ordinance: manufacturing, retail, restaurants, service businesses, warehousing and storage.
  • Madison Ordinance to Increase Front Setbacks from Zero to Five Feet to Provide More Room for Street Tree Canopies
    In early 2021, the Madison Common Council adopted an ordinance which modifies the Madison zoning districts that allow for a zero front setback to require a minimum 5-foot front setback if the distance between the curb and property line is less than 15 feet will be introduced at the Common Council. The purpose of increasing the minimum front setback from zero to 5 feet was to create more room for street tree canopies. The ordinance contained a map that identifies some Downtown block faces that will be exempted from the ordinance. City planning staff said exempting these block faces is a concession being made by the sponsoring alders in response to feedback provided by members of Smart Growth and Downtown Madison, Inc. ​ If the distance between the curb and the property line of a parcel is slightly less than 15 feet, the ordinance provides that the property owner can agree to recording a no-build easement to increase the distance from the curb to the facade of the future new building to 15 feet and thereby avoid the five-foot setback. For example, if the distance between the curb and the property line is 14 feet, the property owner can avoid the 5-foot setback by agreeing to record a one-foot-wide no-build easement. ​ Smart Growth pointed out the city government did not provide notice of this proposed ordinance to affected property owners. City planning staff responded the city government does not provide notice to individual property owners when zoning text amendments are proposed, so they will not give notice to individual property owners who will be adversely affected by this ordinance. ​ Smart Growth questioned, among other things, whether (a) there are not less disruptive alternatives to help street trees thrive, (b) the negative impact of the ordinance on the tax base and economic development outweighs the benefits of healthier street trees, and (c) the potential inequity created by well connected property owners such as the members of Smart Growth having notice of this proposed ordinance while owners of other, smaller impacted properties do not.
  • Proactive Zoning in Madison
    In the vast majority of communities in the U.S., the future land use maps in comprehensive plans, master plans and neighborhood plans show a vision of a desired future built environment and open space, but land use continues to be controlled by the current zoning of parcels unless and until a property owner or developer applies to change the zoning to match the future land use map. Transition of zoning from current zoning to zoning that matches the future land use map is completely voluntary. ​ Some Madison alders wanted the Madison to abandon the policy described above and change to “proactive zoning.” Proactive zoning means when a neighborhood plan or a special area plan is adopted to implement the city’s Comprehensive Plan in a particular part of the city, the future land use map in the plan is a zoning map, and shortly after the plan’s adoption, and ordinance or ordinances will be initiated by the city government to change the zoning of all parcels in the area covered by the plan to match the future land use map. This results in the creation of many more legal nonconforming uses, which discourages property owners from investing in their properties. ​ In early 2020, the Madison Common Council narrowly gave the necessary approvals for the conversion of an empty large warehouse near Milwaukee St to a state-of-the-art Amazon distribution center. The alders how opposed the project did so because it was not consistent with the future land use map in the Milwaukee Street Special Area Plan, which in turn was not consistent with the current zoning and actual land uses. In the view of these alders, the city government made a mistake when it did not engage in transformational zoning and immediately seek to rezone all the properties to match the future land use map in the special area plan. ​ After the Common Council granted the approvals, Amazon invested a considerable amount of money upgrading the property. The Amazon distribution facility has been up and running for a while now and is an asset to the neighborhood and the city as a whole. ​ In early 2021, Alder Foster, who represents the area, proposed an ordinance that would rezone the Amazon distribution facility to a zoning district that is consistent with the future land use map in the special area plan, but inconsistent with Amazon's use of the property. Adopting this ordinance would make Amazon's use a legal non-conforming use, which would have adverse consequences for the building owner. The property owners objected to the rezoning, and Smart Growth supported the property owner. The Common Council defeated the ordinance. ​ But that was not the end of proactive zoning in Madison. When the Common Council adopted the Oscar Mayer Special Area Plan, it instructed city staff to prepare an ordinance to rezone all properties in the planning area to match the future land use map in the special area plan. Staff has initiated a public outreach process regarding the anticipated ordinance to rezone properties. ​ In subsequent neighborhood or special area planning processes, city staff have worked with the Plan Commission to identify a limited number of parcels within the planning area where proactive zoning might be warranted and, and then city staff reach out to the owners of those properties to make sure they are aware that their property likely will be rezoned and learn if they object. Special attention is paid to not creating legal nonconforming uses through proactive rezoning. Smart Growth will remain vigilant of how proactive zoning is being used in future planning process and will object if it is used too broadly.
  • Dane County Stormwater Ordinance
    In December 2021, the Dane County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance imposing stormwater management requirements similar to the requirements enacted by the City of Madison in 2020. For example, new development will be required to match pre-development runoff in a 200-year storm event, because based on actual local precipitation data in recent decades, the volume of water in the Madison 200-year storm event in NOAA’s point precipitation frequency estimates is essentially a 100-year storm event locally now. All cities and villages in Dane County will be required to adopt a stormwater ordinance that has requirements that mimic or exceed the requirements in the county stormwater ordinance. Developers were concerned about the potential impact of these new requirements on development or redevelopment projects that already were in the land use approval process. Smart Growth obtained clarification from the county’s Corporation Counsel that if a substantially complete application for land use approval for a project is filed before the enactment of the new stormwater ordinance, the requirements in the new stormwater ordinance will not apply to the project.
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