Tight Madison city council vote approves zoning changes; aid housing development

By Anthony SanFilippo
July 2021

Looking for any way possible to tackle the city’s affordable housing dilemma, Madison City Council approved changes to their zoning rules by the slimmest of margins in June, which should make it easier to build more houses in the city.

The council adopted the zoning code changes by an 11-9 vote. This followed several hours of discussion as well as a two-hour period that allowed for public comments.

The REALTORS® Association of South Central Wisconsin led the charge in support of the code changes, conducting not one, but two calls for action among 3,350 REALTORS® who were contacted to express their support for the issue.

At the council meeting, those in favor of the zoning changes argued that creating more places for housing units to be built will add to the supply, allaying some of the demand, thus keeping prices at a more manageable level, either for homebuyers or renters.

Madison currently has just a 3% vacancy rate on rentals and needs to add 2,000 units per year just to keep up with the city’s booming population.

However, there were several City Council members who were skeptical that zoning changes would lead to more housing development that is considered affordable.

Alder Grant Foster was one of the council members who voted against the zoning changes and told The Capital Times that he would have preferred other options be considered, such as incentives for affordable housing developers that would add a certain amount of density to possible projects.

According to the Times, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway issued a statement, after the council meeting, that called the council’s decision a “positive step to support the development of more housing and more types of housing in Madison.

“This ordinance alone will not solve our housing crisis, but it is one piece of a larger strategy that we are acting on.”

The zoning changes are considered to be a boon for multi-family housing developers and hopes that it will also allow smaller scale developers to build as well with a lot less red tape to cut through and cutting down on their costs.

One bit of red tap that is no longer in the way is the requirement that conditional use approvals go through the Plan Commission. Instead, builders can move forward with their plans simply with permission of city staff.

The proponents argued that a more streamlined city development process will make it easier and more affordable to get approvals to start new development.

“It is predictability and stability that generate investment in building the missing middle,” Robert Procter, government affairs director for the Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin, told the Times.

Planning Division Director Heather Stouder said that 3.6% of the 10,800 housing units that have been approved since 2016 would have fallen under the new zoning rules.


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