Plan Commission Updated on Comprehensive Plan

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By: 
Cameron Bren

MIDDLETON–The City of Middleton Plan Commission reviewed the latest revisions to the city’s comprehensive plan which is expected to be adopted by the Common Council by the end of the year.

Director of Planning and Community Development Abby Attoun told the commission the final document is mostly fleshed out and staff are now focused on design, layout and visuals. She said staff has had more time than usual to work on the plan in recent months. 

To recapitulate, Attoun explained that the plan is meant to serve as a community guide to physical, social and economic development. She noted the plan is not intended to be land use regulations but rather provide rational basis for local land use decisions with a 20 year vision.

Wisconsin’s Comprehensive Planning law requires that a comprehensive plan adopted by a government body, involve public input and be consistent with local ordinances.

The law also requires the plan include nine elements: Issues and Opportunities, Housing, Transportation, Utilities and Community Facilities, Agricultural, Natural and Cultural Resources, Economic Development, Intergovernmental Cooperation, Land Use, Implementation. 

Attoun said the elements can be reworded and reordered so they are tailored to their respective communities. 

She said the city took up revising the previous comprehensive plan in 2015. Several public input sessions and plan commission work sessions were held over the next couple years until dropping off in 2017 amid turnover on the plan commission. 

Action began picking up again in 2018 while in 2019 the plan commission approved a complete overhaul. Since then there have been six public input sessions and seven plan commission work sessions, Attoun explained.

The document begins with the vision stated: “The City of Middleton is a sustainable, urban community with an exceptional quality of life that is rooted in environmental stewardship. We are a thriving and safe community accessible to all, and we celebrate diversity and equitable opportunities for all people.”

The document includes seven chapters, each of which cover the elements of the plan. The layout for each chapter starts with a stated goal, follows with a description of the issue, and finally lists strategies and how they will be implemented. 

Attoun said staff have focused on making the document graphic and user friendly to appeal to a typical Middleton resident.  

The chapters and stated goals include: 

Land Use: Middleton will establish a land use pattern that promotes compact development, protection of natural resources, a range of housing options, mobility, and economic growth in order to maintain an exceptional quality of life.

Transportation: Middleton’s transportation system will be safe, reliable, convenient, affordable, efficient, and less reliant on single occupancy vehicles so as to reduce environmental impact, promote active lifestyles, and enhance prosperity for all people regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation.

Housing: Middleton will support a wide range of housing types, sizes, and costs throughout the City, including quality affordable housing, in order to meet the projected housing needs.

Economic Development: Middleton will support an inclusive and innovative economy that includes a range of high-quality jobs and educational opportunities to serve the needs of the community at large.

Character: Middleton will embrace the vibrant characteristics that shape our community’s evolving identity while celebrating its heritage.

Green City: The City of Middleton will preserve, protect, and enhance our unparalleled connections to nature, agriculture, and water resources, and we will continue to lead with a community-wide stewardship ethic that will equitably mitigate climate change and adapt to our changing environment.

Governance, Partnerships, and Services: Middleton will continually engage stakeholders, develop partnerships with other agencies and units of government, and provide high quality and efficient services to meet community needs.

Attoun said something unique to Middleton may be that the Green City section is longer and goes into more detail.

“This is what the city of Middleton really values,” Attoun said. “We really value our open space. We’ve preserved 25 percent of our land in permanent public open space.”

She added that even after the comprehensive plan is adopted by the common council she would like to treat it as a live document periodically updating as needed.

Mayor Gurdip Brar said the document looks good so far, and he is looking forward to the final draft.

District 7 Ald. Dan Ramsey said as someone without a planning or academic background he appreciated the formatting and graphics for being easy to read and understand.

Ramsey said he is a proponent of homeownership and a community land trust and appreciated those being included in the plan. 

“I think that those are very important goals and strategies that Middleton needs to be pursuing with great vigor,” Ramsey said. 

Plan Commission member Mike Slavish asked if the term “missing middle” refers to a lack of housing for people who are not considered low-income but are still unable to afford housing in Middleton.

Attoun said “missing middle” in this case refers to the mass of housing structures between single family homes and duplexes and high rise apartment buildings.

Slavish said he would like to see language added referring to “missing middle” in terms of affordable housing at middle income levels as well.

Slavish said while the document notes using TIF to incentivize affordable housing projects it makes no mention of tax exemption or payment in lieu of tax agreements. He suggested adding language laying out that option as an alternative to a TIF agreement.

He said he likes the strategy of waving city fees for homes with families earning 60 percent or less than the area median income and asked staff to consider doing the same for rental housing.

Slavish pointed out the agreements with real estate developers to provide affordable units in new housing projects generally end after a set period and the units then become market rate. He said the city could provide incentives or waive fees for projects committing to maintain affordable units indefinitely.

Plan Commissionor Jennifer Murray asked what further public input will be. Attoun said the Plan Commission and Common Council will each need to have a public hearing before voting on the plan. She said the final draft will be finished soon and distributed to the community. She expects comments to begin coming in at that point. 

Mayor Brar said another public input session could be helpful, even if it can only be held virtually. Attoun said the city has had success engaging community members virtually on Facebook and can use that as well.

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