Last Thursday, the City of Madison released a new draft of an ambitious plan to transform the former site of the Oscar Mayer plant and its surrounding area. The city plans to develop the site into a unique and vibrant destination which will integrate the East and North sides of Madison.
Here are the main goals of the plan: Replace the local economy that disappeared when the plant closed. Introduce an innovative and well-rounded transportation system. Offer affordable and sustainable housing. And make sure that this new development accounts for flooding that has caused severe damage to parts of the city.
In 2018, the first phase of this project began with community input. And now the project is ready to move forward. Dan McAuliffe is a planner for the City of Madison, who worked on the new report. He’s optimistic that this plan could reinvent the North side. He says it could be especially effective when it comes to transportation:
“Long term we look at, you know, what is the transit of the future, it’s very likely going to be bus rapid transit. And thinking about how not only transit can benefit Oscar Mayer but also how clustering development around transit can really help the city grow in a way that reduces a reliance on cars and fossil fuels.”
The plan is projected to be completed by the spring. But McAuliffe says the full development could take… a lot longer than that.
“You know, Oscar Mayer took about a hundred years to become what it was. And certainly we don’t expect this plan to take a hundred years to occur, but certainly I think buildout likely won’t happen for at least twenty years. I think we’ll start to see seeds of new development happening in certain areas, particularly maybe along Commercial Avenue, but I think it’d be really challenging to put a, you know, when we really think everything will be done by.”
Syed Abbas represents part of the north side corridor on the Madison Common Council. He also served on a city committee initially assessing the Oscar Mayer area. He says he’s mostly on board with the development. But he has some safety concerns about further development of Commercial Avenue. He’s also worried there’s not enough wetland space to mitigate flooding.
“The plan only protects between eleven to fourteen acreage land and the rest will be developed, so the citizens and the residents, they have a lot of concerns with development, and they want to protect that land. I live in Eken park, a lot of people on the North side, they have a major flooding issue. I have two sump pumps in my basement, and my basement still stays wet.”
But Abbas says he appreciates the city’s focus on bringing new and living-wage jobs to the area. He also approves of the diversity of the different housing projects being planned for the area.
The community reception to this plan has been mainly positive. A list of public comments published by the city have expressed excitement for new proposed housing, the new intersection of Commercial and Packers Avenue, and the currently commercial area of wetland being transformed into a park.
Some less positive comments express concern about the proposed intersection at Coolidge Street, increased traffic, and pedestrian safety.
Residents have an opportunity to learn more about the plan this Thursday at 6 pm, at 910 Oscar Avenue at Oscar Mayer Station. The city reports Spanish and Hmong translators will be available.
(Image courtesy City of Madison Planning Division, Vandewalle and Associates)