A group of Madison residents are voicing their concern over a plan to develop acres of a wetland that is also, partially, a contaminated brownfield.
It’s called the Hartmeyer Natural Area, and sits vacant just next to the site of the old Oscar Mayer plant.
Beth Sluys, who moved to Madison in 2016, is a member of the Friends of the Hartmeyer Natural Area. They are a neighborhood group advocating to hold off on development for part of the wetland area.
“The wetland is home to an amazing amount of biodiversity. There’s over 120 species of birds that live there. There’s frog turtles, snakes, you name it. And there’s an ongoing returning pair of sandhill cranes that call it home. They migrate here to specifically nest there and raise young colts.”
Portions of the wetland slated to be developed, as part of a $300 million dollar plan to build hundreds of homes, as Madison looks at a burgeoning housing crisis.
Two weeks ago, the Madison Planning Commission voted to recommend reducing the size of wetlands that would be preserved during development – from 16 acres down to 12 acres.
That move has disturbed the Friends of the Hartmeyer Natural Area.
“The property there was 30 acres and now through the Oscar Mayer Special Area Planning process we managed to conserve 16 acres – the common council voted to save 16 acres for a potential conservation natural area park for public access.”
The property also contains a brownsite from the industrial activities of the old Oscar Meyer plant, according to a Department of Natural Resources listing. It’s the site of at least two fuel spills, and it’s being investigated for T-C-E, a carcinogen found in both groundwater and toxic vapor.
That pollution could be expensive for developers as they test, mitigate, and remediate the toxic chemicals. The DNR requires that developers take steps to mitigate TCE. .
The wetland is a small piece in a multi-year plan to improve the neighborhood and living in northeast Madison. Building more housing to accommodate a city struggling for more housing for an expanding population is a key goal of the project.
But the Friends of the Hartmeyer Natural Area say they don’t want high-density housing – and because of the remediation required by the state, it may not be an ideal place for housing anyway. Chris Elhorn is a member of the Friends group and lives nearby.
“When building happens you have to remove the water that’s accumulated underground before you put in a foundation for a building. And that process in itself would dewater the wetland and kill it.”
The group says that the housing would destroy greenspace. They say they would prefer single family homes.
“The housing in the area being proposed through this rezoning is really intense development – high-density housing – and it’s not that we’re against affordable housing but I feel that a lot of times is stacked, it’s really dense. And it’s not very welcoming or family-focused. And so we would like to see some of the housing less-dense and maybe even encourage some homeownership and support that process.
Yet single-family homes could pose a problem for Madison’s tight housing supply.
Madison is the fastest-growing municipality in Wisconsin, and its population grew by nearly 16 percent in the last decade. According to a 2021 housing study by the city, Madison could be home to 70,000 new residents and 40,000 new households by 2040. The same report found that the supply of housing has not kept pace with an increasing population.
The Madison Common Council is slated to decide how much of the wetland to conserve at their meeting next Tuesday.