Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, along with Alders Patrick Heck, Erik Paulson, Mike Verveer and Jael Currie, will introduce legislation to the Madison Common Council Tuesday that would encourage the development of more affordable housing downtown.

The legislation proposes a change to the zoning ordinance that will allow developers to add stories to downtown buildings in return for ensuring at least half of the new space is used for affordable housing. The added stories must still conform to downtown height limits.

Currently, the City’s ordinance sets limits on both the number of stories and the heights of downtown buildings. The limits serve to protect the view of the State Capitol. While the height and story limits align fairly well for commercial buildings, the heights of residential floors are typically lower than commercial floor heights. Thus, a greater number of residential stories would be possible without exceeding allowable height limits. The proposed ordinance change takes advantage of that fact.

“The City has an opportunity to provide developers the ability to exceed floor limits without violating height limits, and to use that opportunity as an incentive to bring more affordable housing into downtown developments,” explains District 2 Alder Patrick Heck.

“This is a win-win for meeting Madison’s housing needs,” said Mayor Rhodes Conway. “Developers can build more housing in downtown Madison to help deal with our supply shortage, while staying within existing height limits, and we can ensure that some of those added units will be affordable to households with more modest means.”

“We appreciate Mayor Rhodes-Conway and alders taking this step to help UW-Madison students and the broader community. It is our hope that this will increase affordable housing downtown and aligns with our efforts related to affordability and access for our students,” noted Rob Cramer, UW-Madison Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration.

The proposal primarily targets market rate developers who wouldn’t otherwise include affordable units in their developments, but might be willing to do so in return for being able to add more stories to their buildings. Developers agreeing to the proposed incentive must use at least 50% of the additional space for affordable housing and maintain that affordability for at least thirty years. Where a developer is already planning to build affordable housing and is receiving City financial assistance, the number of additional units required to earn the bonus stories would be negotiated with the City.

“High land costs and other considerations make development in the downtown difficult, and affordable housing there even more so. A development bonus is another a tool in the toolbox for adding more housing and more affordable housing downtown,” said 4th District Alder Mike Verveer.

District 16 Alder Jael Currie agrees, adding, “We are not talking about large amounts of new affordable housing, but I think we’ll see developers more willing, and more able, to include affordable units because of this tool.”

The provision outlined in the proposed ordinance change is currently limited to the downtown area, where Capitol View and other height restrictions are in place and where the relationship between the allowable number of stories and allowable heights that govern downtown development creates the opportunity for bonus stories. Without comparable height restrictions elsewhere in Madison, the opportunity is not readily available citywide.

“This idea was discussed with the Plan Commission, and we agreed it was worth pursuing to further our housing goals in Madison,” said District 3 Alder and Plan Commissioner Erik Paulson. “I appreciate the work that Director Stouder and City staff did to refine the idea, and the feedback offered by several developers.”

The proposal will be introduced at the Common Council’s February 7 meeting. It will be considered by the Plan Commission on February 27, and is scheduled to return to the Council for final action on March 7.


  • Christie Baumel, (608) 266-4611
  • Karen Kapusta-Pofahl, (608) 261-9159