Editor’s note. In the Aug/Sept Bulletin, our Alder Tag offered to convene a District 13 meeting with city staff “devoted to the topic of housing and the specific proposals around Transit-Oriented Development (TOD).” On Wednesday Sept. 14, City Planning staff Heather Stouder and Ben Zeller presented and answered questions on the “whys and wherefores of TOD and how this policy approach relates to the growth of our City, both in terms of meeting housing demand and building a robust transit system.” The article below recaps the meeting.
Transit-Oriented Development for a Growing CityBy Jim Winkle
I attended the district 13 Madison Planning staff presentation in September and learned how Transit-Oriented Development, or “TOD,” seeks to help create more pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, relieve our housing shortage, and retain affordable housing.
What is Transit-Oriented Development? TOD attempts to concentrate housing and destinations along major corridors like Park Street so that more people can use the coming transit system’s fast, frequent service. TOD allows the next step up in density without any special permission unless a building is being razed. For example, a large portion of Bay Creek contains single-family houses; duplexes would be allowed in the TOD area, about three blocks on either side of Park Street, assuming green space requirements are still met. Staff predicted that the most common residential example of TOD would be splitting a single-family house to create a duplex. Citing issues with absentee landlords, Alder Tag advocated requiring owner-occupancy for splits since residency helps ensure greater neighborhood engagement. Another example: apartment buildings currently limited to 24 units could contain 36 units. Though the TOD proposal covers 15% of the city, City planners do not expect many changes overnight – it could take a decade before the City can even evaluate its effectiveness.
The increased density from TOD changes would likely result in more pedestrian-oriented, compact, mixed-use neighborhoods. This would have many benefits, including reducing our dependence on cars, which in turn would save us money – transit is many household’s second highest expense – reduce emissions, and provide an alternative to getting stuck in traffic. (I wonder if it would bring more businesses to some of those empty first-floor storefronts on Park Street.)
Madison’s housing shortage is no secret. Planners referred us to the City’s Housing Snapshot Report 2022 which reveals that Madison's rental vacancy rate has averaged below the ideal 5% for about a decade (see Rental Vacancy Rate graph), driving up costs. Madison has a shortage of housing for people who have low incomes (families of four earning less than $31k/year). Surprisingly, the report reveals that Madison also has a shortage of housing for families making an average income. Because of this, some folks buy/rent "down" into naturally-affordable neighborhoods like those in South Madison. While Madison certainly needs more affordable housing, Madison also needs more housing for the average earner. TOD aims to help provide this housing to take the pressure off of more affordable neighborhoods and provide more housing in those affordable neighborhoods. The City is using other tools to help ensure we retain affordable housing like boosting its affordable housing fund budget, "land banking" (like at the Truman-Olson site), and a possible new TIF district in South Madison.
Madison is predicted to grow another 100,000 people by 2050; people keep moving here and many of us stay. Though TOD should be good for residents with low income, our neighborhood, and the environment, in the big picture it represents a relatively modest increase in density and some think we need to go further. What ideas do you have to accommodate healthy growth?
To watch the recording of the meeting, see Tag's September 16 blog. Alders will introduce the Transit-Oriented Development proposal in late November, holding public hearings after that. Stay tuned to TOD changes and sign up for email updates at www.cityofmadison.com/tod