Downtown overlay district approved
Restrictions lifted for development
By Thomas Tingle
Record Managing Editor
A downtown overlay district for portions of downtown Madison has been approved by the city council as part of an overall plan to turn the center of town back into a place of activity and business.
In February when city leaders began discussing an idea to bring new businesses and growth to downtown Madison without harming its small-town atmosphere and historic charm, their ideas were met with some opposition by neighbors living in the nearby historic district.
The special district will allow Madison to waive portions of its zoning laws making it easier for developers to build and for existing structures to be renovated.
Prior to the approval of the new district for downtown Madison, city leaders stated they felt that there were a number of restrictions that limited what could and couldn't be done in downtown.
"Let's face it, there isn't a lot going on in downtown Madison at this time and we really need to do something to lure businesses to downtown Madison," said Madison Community Development Department Director Bob Atallo.
Atallo said there is plenty of space in downtown Madison for new growth as well as space available for renovation. He said the intent is to encourage development in downtown Madison by enabling mixed-use development, higher development density and intensity and relief from other development restrictions made necessary by the history of the built environment.
"Some of the specific changes the zoning law will allow developers to do that they couldn't do before is redevelop existing buildings with downstairs businesses and upstairs apartments as well as not having to build a parking lot for every new development," Atallo said. "Buildings won't have to be set back 80 feet from the property line as current business zoning requires."
Atallo said complying with some zoning restrictions, such as the 80-foot setback and parking lots is a practical impossibility in most the downtown area, which is preventing development.
Atallo said before changes are made in downtown Madison, such as new developments or construction is approved or remodeling is approved, for any jobs except interior remodeling, developers will need to go to the Planning Commission with a development plan.
"If they are also in the historic district, they will need to get a certificate of appropriations from the Architectural Review Board," Atallo said. "The board can only control exterior appearance – not zoning, uses, parking, etc. Plus, they only have authority within the historic district, which is only part of the downtown overlay district."
Regarding concerns that neighboring residents may have once the new district is in place, Atallo said each development will be approved on a case-by-case basis by the Planning Commission in an open public meeting which anyone can attend to voice his opinion.
"Approvals will be discretionary, which means the Planning Commission isn't compelled by law to approve a project, as it might be in other parts of the city – if the project met all requirements," Atallo said."
Sullivan, Main and Shorter streets and reaches close to Cozette Way bound the downtown overlay district. Part of the district overlaps the city's historic district.