After over a year of revisions, the Madison Common Council finally approved the rezoning and redevelopment of Raemisch Farms last night.
While some are happy to see new developments come to the northside, others are concerned about the larger implications of paving farmlands next to the airport to build single-family homes.
The Raemisch Farm is a 65-acre area of farmland bordering Sherman and Packers Avenue.
Green Street Development, the Saint Louis based development company working on that property, is looking to build 76 market-rate homes and 6 apartment buildings there, removing all but 8 acres of farmland in the process. 3 and a half acres on the property would be saved for parkland and open space.
Last night, the the project to redevelop Raemisch Farm went before the Common Council for the third time. In August of last year, the council overwhelmingly denied the project, which they did again back in February.
Since then, the plan has undergone considerable change, making the home plots smaller, adding more park land along Sherman Avenue, and eliminating homes to add more farmable land.
And after nearly three hours of public comment and discussion, the third time appeared to be the charm. The rezoning and development passed in a 15-3 vote.
Critics have been vocal about the project, naming concerns associated with the incoming beddown of F-35 jets that will be housed at the nearby Truax Airfield next year.
The site sits right next to the Dane County Airport, and is projected to be one of the areas most affected by noise from the F-35s.
Shelly Johnson, who spoke at last night’s meeting and lives in the same district as Raemisch Farm, says that the noise from those jets will put those living in the new neighborhood at risk.
“These houses are a trap for those who live there. For anyone who purchases a house on this property, they are taking on a financial risk of purchasing something that may never get its value back. They will be stuck living in an unsafe environment, and there’s no way to soundproof a house completely to protect people. Even if there was, you certainly would be a prisoner of your own house, and you wouldn’t be able to go outside and enjoy your own backyard with the sound of the planes,” Johnson says.
Steve Klafka with Safe Skies Clean Water agrees, saying that he is disappointed that the city is willing to place new housing next to the airport before figuring out exactly how the noise will affect those who live nearby.
“They (the city) just haven’t gotten around to putting their foot down and say ‘no new developments near the airport.’ Developers keep on coming back and we have to sort of piecemeal look at developments to oppose them. It seems like the city has forgotten what they told the Air Force, and now it’s letting these projects sweep through,” Klafka says.
Joel Oliver with Green Street says while he is not concerned about the noise, they still decided to implement noise mitigation into the houses. .
“There’s a lot of things that make a lot of noise, right? We want to provide a product that is marketable, so we went above and beyond in that letter to say that on the eastern facing side of the multi-family buildings, the side facing the airport, they would have additional construction methods to ensure more soundproofing. That could be through different styles of windows, patio doors, different techniques for installing insulation, those are the typical things you would do,” Oliver says.
But for some, the issues with the Raemisch Farm redevelopment come from the houses themselves. Michelle Ellinger-Linley, with the Raemisch Farm Workgroup, says that she’s most disappointed in the affordability of the neighborhood. The single-family homes built on the site will be sold at market value. According to Zillow, homes for sale about a mile away near the Cherokee Marsh range from $265,000 on the low end to almost a million dollars on the high end.
District 13 alder Tag Evers says that he agrees with those concerns, which is why he voted against the rezoning last night.
“It’s highly unlikely that people with more modest incomes, whether that be teachers or first responders, would be able to afford these homes. While we need more housing at all different price levels, I felt like the opportunity presented here was not sufficiently strong to warrant paving over this farmland,” Evers says.
Evers says that, if the plan removed the single-family housing and focused instead on apartments, he would have been more supportive of the plan.
Evers listed another concern with the project: turning farmable land into paving. He says the development removes another opportunity to grow food and be less reliant on grocery stores, especially given supply chain disruptions over the last few years.
Lauri Lee is the Chair of the Northside Planning Council, a nonprofit community group focusing on overseeing the wellbeing of the community through racial and economic equity. She says that the 8 acres of farmable land at Raemisch Farm is larger than what is already available in the area.
“If you have to compare it to what else is on the north side, we are also home to the Troy Community Garden and the Troy Farm. Troy Farm has 6 acres, so it’s bigger than Troy Farm, which has been there for at least 25 years,” Lee says
District 18 alder Charles Myadze, who represents the area containing Raemisch Farm, has been a long time proponent of the rezoning.
At last night’s meeting, Myadze gave an impassioned plea to get the council to approve the rezoning, saying that owning a home has been the best thing to happen in his life, and wants that to come to underrepresented people of the city’s north side.
“How many Charles Myadze’s are there on the north side corridor that want a chance to own a house? When we talk about home ownership, generational wealth that I can hand to my own kids, that is so important,” Myadze says
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway agrees, saying that the development will bring needed housing as the city continues to grow.
“As you know, housing is one of my top priorities. Here in Madison, we need to create a minimum of 4,000 housing units today, and then add another 1,000 to 2,000 a year going forward, just to keep up with the population growth we’ve experienced and are projected to experience. That won’t necessarily reduce the rents we’re seeing, but it will keep them from going up,” Mayor Rhodes-Conway says.
Joel Oliver with Green Street says that, now that the area has been rezoned, a better idea of what the homes in the redeveloped Raemisch Farm will look like, and their prices, will be decided in the spring of next year.
Photo courtesy: Zac Gudakov / UNSPLASH