After months of community pushback strongly opposing the extension of a road that would cut through a beloved piece of neighborhood land on Madison's southwest side, the city’s Plan Commission voted against the neighborhood’s wishes Monday night.
Ken Opin, the chair of the commission, said if he were a neighborhood resident, he would side with them.
“But we are the Plan Commission of the city, and it is our responsibility to look out for what we see as the interests of the city as a whole,” he said. “Please do believe that we respect your points of view.”
The Plan Commission was reviewing an update to the High Point-Raymond neighborhood development plan (NDP) addresses a number of areas, including housing mix, parks and proactive planning for biking and transit. But the most controversial issue is a proposed extension of the dead-end Jeffy Trail to connect it with Raymond Road.
Extending it would mean removing or relocating about 300 feet of a bike path and cutting into an open area that residents currently use as a park.
Jeffy Trail has dominated the discussion as the NDP has moved through various city committees, with residents consistently showing up to voice their opposition to the project. Residents said the road would take away a biking and walking path and increase traffic in their neighborhood.
The city has argued that road connections are needed between neighborhoods and provide better emergency access, improving firefighter response times.
The Plan Commission ultimately agreed with the city. It wasn’t a surprising move, as the commission has sided with the extension, beginning as far back as 2011 and as recently as this spring.
“We didn’t sneak up and surprise people on this,” commissioner Michael Rewey said. “Before any house was built, (the extension) was in the plan.”
But residents may have thought the tide was turning in their favor after two other city committees — the Long Range Transportation Planning Committee and the Sustainable Madison Committee — recently recommended removing the Jeffy Trail extension from the plan.
On Monday, many residents spoke before the commission in universal opposition to the extension. They said the extension was a waste of the city’s resources and clearly against the wishes of the neighborhood. Many described the Jeffy Trail area as a beloved community asset that had increased neighborhood connectivity.
One resident brought pictures of children marching along the bike path for a Fourth of July parade and another described children “chasing fireflies and frogs and skipping rocks” in the park area. Another resident described how the space helped create a “strong, vibrant community of neighbors who have become friends.”
Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, who represents the neighborhood on the City Council, also spoke in opposition to the plan. She had previously written a letter outlining her reasons for this position, including the need to discourage cut-through traffic and maintain “sensitive environmental features” in the area.
The commission acknowledged the neighborhood’s concerns but said that ultimately, the interconnectivity of city neighborhoods was more important, something prioritized in the city’s comprehensive plan.
“I’ve tried to find a way to agree with the residents, but I really can’t find that,” commissioner Brad Cantrell said. “It’s needed to provide traffic circulation.”
This was especially important, city planner Dan McAuliffe said, because of the three options for north-south through roads in the area, “it’s the only connection the city actually has control over at this time,” as one would involve the cooperation of the Village of Verona and the other depends on the future development of a farm that has not yet been sold.
Street connectivity is not the only value in the city’s comprehensive plan, said Commissioner Melissa Berger. Berger was the only member who spoke against the extension, and pointed out that the plan contains competing priorities such as protecting high quality natural environments.
The Plan Commission voted to approve the extension of Jeffy Road, but emphasized that the extension should be designed to preserve green space, discourage fast traffic and create an off-road bike trail.
The NDP is slated to appear before the City Council for approval later this summer.