Oliv Madison rendering

The latest rendering of Core Spaces' Oliv Madison project.

On Monday night, Madison’s Plan Commission approved a major development that will bring a new form of affordable student housing as well as a small business incubator to downtown. The building, which was proposed by national student housing development company Core Spaces, will be located on the 300 block of State Street.

The Plan Commission voted unanimously to approve the stepped-back 10-story, 386-unit building called Oliv Madison. Oliv will have 1,001 beds that will be leased out individually, including 112 beds that will be set aside for affordability.

Students who qualify for financial assistance will be able to receive a letter of confirmation from the UW-Madison Office of Financial Aid that will in essence be a referral that those students can take to the Core Spaces management team. Those students will then be able to rent beds in the Oliv at a 40% discount of the market rate.

The affordable beds will be offered in sets of 2/2+2 bedroom units but will have the same amenities as all of the other units, and students will be able to move to any different unit if they are experiencing problems or challenges with their living arrangements.

The Core Spaces development team, led by Rob Bak, had many meetings with members of the Campus Area Neighborhood Association, a Steering committee, City Council alders, representatives from UW Madison, and State Street business owners.

Throughout the process of developing Oliv Madison, Core Spaces incorporated feedback from each of those meetings and catered the design of the building as well as the elements of affordability to what they were hearing in the public feedback meetings.

“I want to thank everyone who has provided feedback and especially the city staff, alders, and the steering committee,” Bak said. “We have worked really hard to listen throughout all of these interactions and believe that the project before you reflects that listening.”

Core Spaces has signed an agreement with the City of Madison that states it will have to provide the 10% of affordable bedspace and that the city is able to verify in an annual review that those beds are being filled to capacity. The agreement is part of a Land Use Restriction Agreement that will hold for 30 years.

Core Spaces has also built The James and The Hub downtown, but later turned the management of those properties over to another company. There was initial concern among the student-led Campus Area Neighborhood Association that if a transfer like that were to happen with Oliv Madison, it could derail the affordable housing element, as a different company might not honor the goals of affordability Core Spaces brought forth.

“That’s why Core Spaces decided to create an MOU and have a land agreement that would always have consistency so that there would always be affordability,” former CANA president Amol Goyal said.

The allowed building height in downtown is typically eight stories. In order to get the project approved, Core Spaces was seeking Plan Commission approval for two additional stories, as well as a permit allowing them to demolish five two-story buildings (while preserving the historic facades of two of them).

There was some concern expressed during Monday night’s meeting that approving this project could set a precedent for developers to get taller buildings approved by simply incorporating elements of affordability.

One resident, Elisabeth McDonald, gathered 469 signatures in a petition against the proposal, and raised the concern about building height.

“It sets a dangerous precedent for the city,” McDonald told the Plan Commission. “Once we alter the height for this building it will allow further developers to ask the same of the city.”

Oliv Madison received support, however, from Downtown Madison Inc., with DMI President Jason Ilstrup writing a letter of support to the Plan Commission about the project.

“Overall, the project at 341 State Street fulfills many of the goals of the 2021 DMI Civic Engagement Agenda and would help add needed density, sustainability, and amenities to an important section of downtown Madison.”

Last week, City Council voted to approve the affordable housing agreement with Core Spaces. Both the Urban Design Commission and Plan Commission have now given their approval to the project, which faces only one remaining hurdle when it comes to the City Council for final approval at their next meeting.

“We want housing, we need housing,” said Plan Commissioner Bradley Cantrell. “In the heart of State Street, this is exactly where it needs to be.”

Accessory dwellings

The Plan Commission also approved ordinance changes that will make it easier for residents to build accessory dwelling units on certain properties.

ADU’s are a second independent residential dwelling unit located on the same lot as a standalone home. The can be either interior (like a basement or attic that operates as a second living unit) or detached (like a stand-alone structure or second floor over a garage).

ADU’s have been allowed as a conditional use since 2013 but with Plan Commission’s approval they will now be allowed as a permitted use, which allows people to avoid having to go through the conditional use permit process as long as they meet the required standards.

The ordinance change will allow ADU’s to be 900 square feet in size and requires ADU’s to be no more than two bedrooms, be no taller than 25 feet in height, and not exceed 1 family or two unrelated individuals for occupancy.

The ordinance change is part of a city wide effort to increase the options for housing as well as make it easier for housing to be constructed without all the red tape of lengthy approval processes. The city of Madison has made several zoning and ordinance changes over the past year.

City staff have said that Madison needs to create 10,000 new homes in the next 5 years to meet the city’s projected needs and this provides another tool by which Madison can accomplish that goal.