Madison’s Plan Commission unanimously approved a proposal to rezone the Raemisch Farm property located at 4000-4150 Packers and 4201 N. Sherman Aves. Monday night, allowing the construction of approximately 124 housing lots. The development would also include an apartment building for workforce housing and commercial spaces.
The Plan Commission’s vote came despite hours of discussion regarding the noise and impact of F-35 jets at nearby Truax Field. A number of commissioners said they were concerned about the F-35s but were going to support the project anyway.
“I am concerned about the F-35 noise but the subdivision plat complies with the subdivision ordinance, so I don’t think the commission has any other option except to forward this for the Common Council,” said commissioner Bradley Cantrell.
In August 2021, the Raemisch Farm proposal was struck down by the City Council by a 15-2 vote and placed on file. Placing the proposal on file allowed the development team to restructure the proposal and refile it, which they have now done.
The Raemisch Farm project has had multiple iterations over the past few years — this was its ninth appearance before the Plan Commission — and residents, as well as commissioners and members of the City Council, have expressed concerns about placing residential housing in the direct path of the fighter jet noise.
Residents from a Vermont town where F-35s are currently based called into the Plan Commission meeting to share with the Commission and the Madison community what they have experienced from the jet noise.
“If I’m standing outside my house without hearing protection when the jets fly by… it exceeds the pain threshold,” said Vermont resident Richard Joseph. “Long-term exposure to this shocking noise has longstanding health effects. One cannot live a normal life here.”
Madison resident Wayne Johnson told the Plan Commission that bringing F-35s to the east side along with building residential homes near them is an injustice.
“It’s an injustice to the east side of Madison to bring the F-35s,” Johnson told the commissioners. “It’s an injustice to low-income residents who don’t have the financial capacity to just move out. We don’t know what is going to happen to the property values on the east side. I think it is very clear that we should do nothing with this property until we know the impact of the F-35s.”
For their part, the development team has been working hard with the community to mold the proposal to mitigate the F-35s' impact.
Joel Oliver, who is leading the St. Louis-based development team from Green Street Development, said during a neighborhood meeting on Jan. 11 that he wishes Green Street had the power to flat out stop the F-35s from coming to Madison.
“We’ve engaged in many meetings with stakeholders and we believe we have gone above and beyond what is standard for developers,” Oliver said at Monday’s meeting.
Oliver’s team has decided not to pursue constructing any residential housing in the area of the proposal closest to Truax Field. The areas set aside for single family homes are on the side furthest from where the F-35s will be based.
The development team also agreed to give 3.3 acres of land to Lake View Elementary School, which borders the proposed area, in order to preserve outdoor learning spaces for kids and prevent the cutting down of trees bordering the school.
According to Oliver’s presentation on Monday night, Green Street will also work with Groundswell, a nonprofit organization that helps protect outdoor spaces. Groundswell has helped elementary schools in Madison create green schoolyards where kids can learn about nature.
The developer wants to team up with Groundswell to come up with ways to provide urban agriculture at the site.
Many residents who called in or answered questions from commissioners said that the development team has done a good job of engaging with some of the most concerning parts of this proposal, and that Oliver has been receptive to incorporating public feedback.
The issue remains, however, that regardless of how much outreach the development team does, the F-35s will affect the everyday lives of residents in that area — and that allowing developers to build residential units in the paths of the jets continues to cause concern.
“How will you account for the unintended consequences when the F-35s arrive?” asked Madison resident Marsha Cannon. “What happens to people who rent or buy newly constructed dwellings there? There’s something not right about this proposal. This plan has been turned down, tweaked, and turned down again by public officials. Yet here it is again.”
The project now moves to the City Council, which will review it on Feb. 22.