Madison City Council approves $70 million low-cost housing project for the East Side

Dean Mosiman | Wisconsin State Journal, Jul 20, 2022

A rendering of Wisconsin Housing Preservation Corp.’s $70 million, four-building, 245-unit lower-income housing project at the corner of East Washington and North Fair Oaks avenues.
Knothe & Bruce Architects
In a big boost for needed housing, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a Madison nonprofit’s plan for a $70 million low-cost housing project to replace a sprawling, vacant former bakery property on the East Side.

Wisconsin Housing Preservation Corp. is buying the 6.4-acre former Bimbo Bakeries USA property at 3401 E. Washington Ave. and will create 245 subsidized apartments in four buildings, commercial space, a small park and parking.

The project could become the first to get city financial assistance to support lower-income housing and use special construction measures to insulate units in anticipation of the stationing of U.S. Air Force F-35 fighter jets at nearby Truax Field starting in 2024 or 2025.

The site, which now includes a 2,100-square-foot retail building and 111,000-square-foot former bakery at the corner of East Washington Avenue and North Fair Oaks Avenue, is assessed at $2.85 million and has been vacant since 2019. It’s adjacent to Hawthorne Elementary School, 3344 Concord Ave.

Created in 2002, WHPC has acquired, developed and renovated more than 158 low-cost rental housing developments with more than 8,550 family and senior units in the state.

“WHPC understands the large unmet need for more quality affordable housing,” chief operating officer Michael Slavish said Tuesday. “In Madison and throughout Wisconsin only one-third of those who qualify for affordable housing can actually find it. The remaining population ends up spending significantly more than 30% of their income for housing alone, not leaving enough for other life necessities such as food, utilities, child care, transportation and medical care.”

The project includes:

  • A five-story building with 77 apartments, community and exercise rooms, and 4,350 square feet of commercial space.
  • A five-story building with 110 apartments, a community room and rooftop plaza.
  • A three-story building with 46 apartments and community room.
  • A two-story building with 12 three-bedroom townhomes.
  • An underground parking garage with 216 spaces and 72 surface spaces.
  • A 1.5-acre green space that transitions to Hawthorne Elementary School.
The 1.5-acre park at the southeast corner of the parcel will be owned and maintained by WHPC and be open for public use year-round.

Repurposing the blighted site will help serve as a catalyst for further reinvestment in the area, Slavish said. The site is strategic given its immediate access to the city’s Bus Rapid Transit system and other amenities, he said.

In January, when WHPC first proposed the project, Ald. Syed Abbas, 12th District, who represents the site, applauded the low-cost housing but voiced concern about placing it in an area within the 65-decibel boundary of the F-35 fighter jet noise map, which is considered compatible with residential development only if soundproofing measures are taken during building construction.

In the following months, WHPC worked with Abbas, other city officials and neighbors to finalize a plan to provide soundproofing. The city, which is considering creation of a tax incremental financing (TIF) district in the area, could provide TIF and other financial support for affordable housing, and could require the sound mitigation.

WHPC has committed to providing sound mitigation at a cost of about $5,000 per unit, Slavish said. It includes upgraded windows and exterior doors, spray foam insulation, additional drywall and resilient channels in walls and ceilings, and added brick to exterior facades for vibration mitigation from traffic noise and proximity to the airport, he said.

While some developments have incorporated sound mitigation due to loud noise levels in the area, this would be the first known to deliver mitigation in anticipation of the F-35s, city Planning Division director Heather Stouder said.

“I really like the project,” Abbas said, noting that he opposes the F-35s and believes the city must protect public health and well-being. “I think it will set a good template on how projects should be done.”