Madison’s Common Council passed a new initiative to build high-density housing outside downtown Madison to address the city’s growing housing crisis earlier this month.
The initiative, called “Transit Oriented Development,” aims to facilitate the construction of high-density housing units in an area measuring approximately 6,700 acres. New guidelines raise the minimum height of buildings, increase the height maximum in certain areas, limit parking and position housing within a quarter mile of transit routes.
The new zoning guidelines allowed the construction of units on top of existing homes in some historic districts, including Hill Farms, causing concern from some residents.
Hill Farms resident Annie Jones said she opposed the overlay because she feels existing communities weren’t included in the discussions about rezoning.
“I simply want to be a part of the decision-making that will impact our neighborhood for generations to come,” Jones said. “Please remove the overlay tonight and invite us to the planning table.”
District 11 Alder Bill Tishler said including historic districts would not adequately provide enough high-density housing and that new housing should be built outside of those districts.
“Take a bus ride to District 11, see for yourself,” Tishler said. “Adding historic districts really are not going to get us to where we need to be for creating high density housing that the city needs right now.”
District 8 Alder Julianna Bennett supported the initiative. She said housing in historic neighborhoods was originally exclusionary to residents of color, and continuing to limit access today is perpetuating exclusionary policies.
“The history about Hill Farms that I want to know is the history of exclusion,” Bennett said. “I want to know about the racially restrictive covenants that were in the deeds when these homes were built.”
Liz Jesse, another Hill Farms resident, said she supported the zoning reform as a way to remedy discriminatory housing practices.
“I see this move to include historic districts as an equity issue,” Jesse said. “It can help us address historic inequalities.”
The historic districts included in the transit zoning are still subject to existing standards and protections.
The transit initiative coincides with plans to improve Madison’s transportation through the bus rapid transit project. Both seek to streamline transit routes and provide underserved communities access to transport.