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Ride the Drive file photo
Bike riders take over the streets during Madison's annual Ride The Drive event.

In the past decade, the city of Madison has become greener, tapping solar and wind power, retrofitting buildings, buying hybrid buses and cutting pollution.

Now, the city is considering an ambitious blueprint on how to spread the green movement deeper into the community and broaden its goals.

The draft, 73-page Madison Sustainability Plan offers dozens of ideas. They range from the easily-embraced — implementing clean-up plans to remove all city beaches from the state's impaired waters list — to the controversial — exploring electronically monitored Downtown toll zones with the goal of reducing traffic and emissions.

But the plan goes far beyond renewable energy and efficiency.

The plan, for example, proposes the city work with the school district on issues from the achievement gap — by "reorganizing" schools and decreasing class size, among other ideas — to having green facilities. 

It promotes jobs with sufficient wages to support the local economy and a green business incubator. It supports a city-wide plan to diversify neighborhoods and have low-cost housing within a half-mile of public transit. It wants better health care for the uninsured. It calls for artits to take part in municipal projects costing more than $1 million. 

The plan represents a vision of "how these different areas of the city could look and make it sustainable for us and better for future generations," said Sherrie Gruder, chairwoman of the city's Sustainable Design and Energy Committee.

The effort has involved developers, architects, engineers, utilities, the Madison schools, UW-Madison, city officials and others.

But some specifics have caused concern.

Plan meeting some opposition

The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, which likes many of the goals and objectives, opposes proposed storm water management rules that are more stringent than those in Dane County. The chamber questions the idea of imposing a new "green" building fee on development projects that could be reduced by meeting environmental standards. And it doesn't like the proposal that would make those contracting with the city provide health care and other benefits.

The chamber and Madison's Business Improvement District question the Downtown vehicle toll zones and recommendations that new developments "prioritize all transportation modes," including pedestrians, cyclists, mass transit users and drivers.

The city's Economic Development Division has offered a three-page memo of suggested revisions.

Some actions, they and others warn, might discourage people from living, working and recreating Downtown and encourage sprawl.

"What's good about the plan are the underlying goals. It's a definite positive for Downtown Madison to have an earned reputation as clean, green and easy to get around in," said business district Director Mary Carbine. "But we do have some concerns. We're looking forward to continuing the discussion."

The plan is under review by 14 city committees. When they're done, the Sustainable Design and Energy Committee will make changes before bringing the document to the City Council late this summer.

Recommendations only

In the end, the plan only makes recommendations, Gruder stressed, adding, "It moves us in a direction. It doesn't mean every one of the items will be implemented."

Specific mandates outlined in the plan would need to be approved by the city council, said Jeanne Hoffman, the city's facilities and sustainability manager. 

It also has no specific cost estimates. 

Although Madison has long had a green streak, it gained momentum when former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz took office in 2003.

Cieslewicz formed a task force to make Madison a national leader in renewable energy and efficiency that would also support economic vitality.

In September 2004, the task force produced a report that outlined initiatives, and since then most have been enacted. Efforts include retrofitting buildings, moving to green products — those made from recycled materials, with low toxicity or that can be recycled — and using at least 20 percent renewable energy by 2012.

"Sometimes people criticize the city of Madison for forcing them to do things," Hoffman said. "We wanted to make sure we were greening our operations."

The current initiative builds upon the 2004 plan.