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Aerial view of downtown Madison.

The Madison Plan Commission didn’t adopt the Imagine Madison Comprehensive Plan, as expected, at its meeting Monday. But it did move one step closer to that objective.

The meeting began with almost an hour of public comments in opposition to changing the classification of Merry Street from low density residential to low-medium. Merry Street intersects with Williamson Street just east of the Yahara River on the east side.

Commissioners had originally planned to adopt a final version of the massive land use plan, but extensive public comment and changes in language surrounding the accuracy of staff data and overlapping plans drew out the proceedings.

The plan will serve as a non-binding guideline for potential development areas and work in conjunction with more local neighborhood plans. It must be updated every 10 years. The plan favors infilling over expansion to meet the city’s growing housing demands and so must delicately navigate the fine line between redevelopment and erasure of neighborhood character.

Community members from Merry Street challenged the amount of input sought by the city when changing the initial determination of density. Emily Sonneman, a resident, said that while the initial phase of the planning process involved community input, the revised version had not been presented to her neighborhood prior to Monday’s meeting.

“The proposal to change Merry Street has been brought up again without public input or notification and is disappointing and goes against the very policies this city has agreed upon,” Sonneman said.

Residents said the street, which runs parallel to the Yahara River, offers a unique rural feeling close to central Madison while also providing wetland-like runoff reabsorption functions which would be compromised by additional development.

The commission voted unanimously to change the density back to low residential after brief discussion.

Community member Linda Lehnertz panned the statistical reliability of the community feedback which was used to inform the plan. She said the small sample size of 500 individuals surveyed by city staff and the unreliable sampling methods undermined key language within the plan. Specifically, the draft plan calls for greater infilling of developed residential zones rather than expansion of Madison’s borders to accommodate growth which it claims is supported by the survey results.

Ald. Ledell Zellers, District 2, said she agreed with part of Lenhertz’s comments and pushed to add language acknowledging the limitations of the feedback received in the early stages of the plans development. She said she did not intend to disregard the findings of the city staff survey and community sessions, but rather hoped to be more transparent.

Ultimately the commission directed staff to include language indicating that the majority of respondents preferred infilling to expansion while using less statistically laden language that could be misleading.

The commission will reconvene July 30 to adopt the plan, which will clear the way for final approval by the City Council.

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