A public comment to the Madison City Council in support of the Raemisch Farm development

For context on the Raemisch Farm controversy see: https://madison.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/objection-to-f-35-noise-forces-city-council-supermajority-vote-on-farmland-development/article_d59f4edc-044c-553e-a130-c19d2fe1ed69.html

I am writing in support of the rezoning and new plat for the “Raemisch Farm” development (Common Council Feb 22, 2022 meeting item 5). As the Plan Commission has now twice determined, the developer has met all the necessary standards in their proposal to support the rezoning and plat approval. Furthermore the developer has bent over backwards to accommodate all reasonable neighborhood requests, even agreeing to give up portions of the property for non-development uses.

At this point it is obvious that the real goal of many against this proposal is to impose so many road-blocks as to dramatically reduce any possible profit from a redevelopment, making it undesirable for any future development. In a real sense, opponents of this redevelopment want the city to take a significant portion of the property value from Raemisch, forcing him to sell for less valuable non-developmental purposes.

Not only have the Council’s actions approached property theft, they have also provided a perfect example of how the Council’s policies are a significant driver of housing unaffordability in Madison. We desperately need more housing and yet the restrictive zoning policies and lengthy approval process means that only the most profitable development projects make economic sense. Every delay and additional requirement makes our housing shortage worse. New construction is almost always expensive, but without these properties people with higher incomes will bid-up the costs of older homes and apartments. This is exactly what I am seeing in my neighborhood (Eken Park), where competition from higher income people has made even modest older homes unaffordable. Our city is facing a housing crisis, and yet the Council seems intent on making it worse.

The threat of F-35 noise was the purported reason driving many alders to vote down this development at a previous Council meeting. Opponents are still providing this as a reason why this development should not be approved. This is puzzling, given that no planned housing is within the estimated average 65db area that F-35 opponents have claimed is problematic for housing. Some argued in the last Plan Commission meeting that even those homes outside of this area will experience significant noise that should (supposedly) exclude residential uses. However, this would seem to exclude much of the East and North sides from residential uses.

As the task force looking into a possible F-35 overlay district concluded, there is no legal basis for the city to exclude housing from these areas and anything the city might do would likely inhibit needed investment in them. Given that these are some of the last affordable areas of the city for housing, any inhibition of housing development in these areas of the city would further exasperate our affordable housing shortage.

The experiences of this developer should embarrass the Council. They have done everything right, and have made many concessions (even some unreasonable ones) to the city and neighbors. And yet they have faced myriad arbitrary concerns and roadblocks. This experience will probably serve as a warning to all businesses that wish to build new homes in Madison. Only the most profitable (luxury) developments are worth the regulatory trouble.

Michael Zenz
12th Alder District