At the first neighborhood meeting to discuss a proposed affordable housing development on Schroeder Road, there were a lot of questions and concerns. Ald. Matt Phair, District 20, one of the two alders hosting the meeting, estimated that about 80 percent of the over 150 attendees seemed to oppose the project.
“I’m not going to try to sugarcoat it, a majority of people there seemed concerned about it,” he said.
But Phair and Ald. Keith Furman, District 19, are hosting a second neighborhood meeting this Wednesday, Nov. 7, and hope that by providing more information and inviting professionals to weigh in, they can alleviate the neighborhood’s top concerns: safety, school capacity and traffic.
The meeting will be held at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 5701 Raymond Rd., at 7:00 p.m.
The proposed four-story building by Stone House Development at 5614 Schroeder Road would provide 96 units, 81 or which would be income-restricted for those making between 30 and 60 percent of Dane County median income — 60 percent is less than $49,560 for a family of three.
Twenty of the 81 affordable units would be supportive units set aside for veterans and formerly homeless families, and the development has partnered with The Road Home and Dane County Veterans Service to provide supportive services.
Babe’s Grill & Bar would be demolished to make way for the U-shaped development. Designs include almost 4,000 square feet of commercial space slated to become a restaurant, which could be a scaled-down Babe’s.
The city recently recommended that the $20.6 million project receive $1.85 million from the city’s Affordable Housing Fund, which would be contingent on the project receiving needed land use approvals.
At the first neighborhood meeting in September, attendees voiced concerns that housing individuals with low-incomes would lead to higher police calls, crime and instability in the neighborhood, Phair said. Phair thinks some of those concerns were based on “preconceptions” about affordable housing.
“It’s affordable housing, but affordable housing doesn’t mean crime,” Furman said. “And it’s unfortunate that there are people that think that, but it’s just simply not true. People look at what happened at Tree Lane and they wonder if there going to be similar situations here. The answer is absolutely not.”
Tree Lane Family Apartments at 7933 Tree Lane and Rethke Terrace Apartments at 715 Rethke Ave., both affordable housing projects, garnered negative attention this summer after Rethke saw a rise in police calls and there were two stabbings at the property. Tree Lane was the site of two large fights and issues with partying, drinking alcohol and playing loud music until the early hours of the morning.
Phair and Furman pointed out that both of those developments provide permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless -- a “very vulnerable population and much more challenging” than what the Schroeder Road apartments would serve, Phair said.
There would be 10 units designated for the formerly homeless at Schroeder Road, but they are for individuals who have successfully lived in supportive housing for at last two years and “no longer require intensive support services,” a presentation from Stone House said.
At the September neighborhood meeting, there were also concerns about the traffic generated by the project, especially near the Whitney Way and Beltline intersection.
The last couple of decades have brought a steady increase in traffic on Schroeder Road, and Exact Sciences nearby will add to the volume, Phair said. But he said traffic engineering projections show that the development would have a negligible impact on traffic.
“We tried in the first meeting to stress that housing developments are less traffic generators than almost any other non single family use and that the site could accommodate more units should we not go forward and another developer purchases the site,” Helen Bradbury, president of Stone House development, said in an email.
Attendees of the September meeting also questioned whether nearby Falk Elementary, with a student population that is 68 percent low-income, could handle a potential influx of low-income students from the Stone House development, Phair said. He pointed to an analysis from MMSD shows that using its student projection formula, the new development would be estimated to host about five students.
Furman thinks much of the original opposition to the project was “based on just not having enough information.” This time, Furman and Phair are happy that staff from the Madison Metropolitan School District, Madison Police Department and city will be at Wednesday’s meeting.
“There was a lot of strong opinions at the last meeting so I’m not sure what to expect. All I know is it’s important for us to talk about facts,” Furman said. “You can’t just talk about feelings or, ‘My gut tells me this,’ and we have professionals that look at this stuff for a reason.”
Both Furman and Phair described themselves as generally supportive of the project. While Phair doesn’t predict “overwhelming neighborhood support,” and both alders expect that the more questions that are answered, more people will come around to the idea.
There’s an “overwhelming need” for affordable housing in Madison, Phair said, and while the Schroeder Road site may not be the “absolutely ideal location” as the site is so close to the beltline, it’s definitely workable.
“Frankly, if it’s not this, it’s something else,” Furman said, explaining that the owner of Babe’s is looking to sell the property.
The project, which does not need City Council approval, is slated to appear before the city’s Urban Design Commission on Dec. 5 and the Planning Commission on Dec. 17.
If approved and given crucial federal tax credits, construction could start next spring and be completed by fall 2019.