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Thursday, March 5, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 2.0° F  Fair
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Madison zoning code redo already under fire
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After months of work, the city of Madison is this week unveiling the first draft of its new zoning code. But already there are critics who say the codes discourage traditional neighborhoods and high-density developments.

Jeff Rosenberg of Veridian Homes sent the city a memo last week, saying the new codes "would deter sustainable neighborhoods" and be "a drastic step backwards."

Rosenberg could not be reached for comment. Brian Munson, of Vandewalle & Associates, shares many of Rosenberg's concerns, but struck a conciliatory note.

"We're not in a critical mode here. We're trying to work with the city," he says. "This is one of the most challenging things a city can take on. This is as complicated as it gets."

Nevertheless, Munson agrees the codes don't encourage traditional neighborhood developments, because they use a process similar to Planned Unit Developments, which require "some fairly significant extra steps."

"It's quite a bit of added work to get into the details they're looking for," Munson says. "A lot of developers seek the path of least resistance."

Munson also says higher density developments should be encouraged in outlying areas, using urban-style setbacks and permitting taller buildings. "There needs to be an urban district allowed off of the isthmus."

In his memo, Rosenberg proposed splitting the Traditional Residential Planned (TRP) districts into three, allowing for subsequently higher densities, and making the approval process similar to other residential districts.

Matt Tucker, the city's zoning administrator, doesn't agree the new code discourages traditional neighborhoods. He says there are areas outside the isthmus where the new codes would encourage high-density, though he admits tweaks are needed: "I'm not sure if we have the heights right and the density right yet."

Still, Tucker welcomes the feedback. "The draft is out for comment now for people to do exactly this," he says. "We need comments like this so we can test the code."

Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, who is on the committee that oversaw the rewrite process, says the "draft code does a really good job at making what's on the ground in conformity with the new zoning code." Currently, she notes, some of the city's most desirable neighborhoods are "out of compliance" and couldn't be built today. The new code fixes that. But she wishes it went a bit further.

"I think we need to have a little bit bigger vision," she says. "We have to be clear about what we want." Specifically, she asks, "Are there existing areas of the city where we want to use zoning as a tool to promote change over time?"

The new codes will be officially unveiled Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the Overture Center. You can read the proposed codes here and look at the city's goals for the project here.

They will also be presented Wednesday at two community meetings, both at 5:30 p.m., at the Warner Park Community and Recreation Center and the Sequoya Branch Library.

Tucker hopes the council will approve the new zoning code sometime this fall. But the more complicated process of mapping the zoning districts won't be finished until next year.

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