Property development proposals are currently adjusting to the new approval process under the city of Madison’s rewritten zoning codes that went into effect earlier this year.

City officials enacted the zoning code changes on Jan. 1 to incorporate changing demands for housing and to streamline the approval process in order to attract new businesses to Madison.

The new zoning codes allow for the kinds of buildings developers often propose to build, Brian Ohm, an urban and regional planning University of Wisconsin professor, said. Having pre-approval reduces the number of proposals that have to be negotiated, he said.

Ald. Ledell Zellers, District 2, said the rezoning also incorporated the city’s priorities as outlined in its Comprehensive Plan.

“The new zoning code … lays out in the requirements that anybody could see what it is we are looking to be built,” Zellers said.

Zellers, who sits on the city’s Plan Commission and Downtown Coordinating Committee, said it is a very “active” time for property development in Madison, particularly on the city’s east side.

Zellers said current projects tend to be housing and rental properties. She described several developments downtown and on the 800 block of East Washington Avenue, which are working their way through the proposal stages.

“There is a lot of excitement about the 800 block proposal that includes a grocery store, some room for businesses and quite a bit of residential [space],” Zellers said.

Prior to the zoning code rewrite, developers relied on zoning ordinances from 1966, according to the city’s website dedicated to the project.

“The zoning that was in place reflected a 1960s emphasis on more suburban style development,” Ohm said. “That proved unworkable for the city in a number of respects.”

The reasons why the old plan proved unsuccessful are reflected in the changing needs of cities, specifically the continued move to redevelop urban landscapes with mixed housing and business structures, Ohm said.

The city of Madison Comprehensive Plan, adopted in January 2006, outlined a vision for city development that included the creation of densely spaced, tall, mixed-use buildings, according to the city website. The plan also recommended developing streets oriented for use by pedestrians, bicyclists and the mass transit system, the website said.

The previous zoning ordinances separated sections of land into single-use districts, Ohm explained. Developers had to go through a special rezoning process if they wanted to construct buildings for combined commercial and residential uses. 

“The zoning [was] rewritten on a parcel by parcel basis,” Ohm said. “It [was] a very time consuming and intensive process.”

The process may have contributed to the sense that Madison was against development, even “anti-business,” Ohm said. Throughout time, consensus emerged that the process needed to be streamlined, he said.

Zellers said she is pleased with how the rezoning changes are running so far. She added it is too early to tell how effective the zoning changes will be or if they will affect the character of Madison.

“We haven’t had enough time to really see how [the rezoning]’s going to play out in terms of the development process,” Zellers said.