City leaders are exploring what they want Fitchburg’s “front door” – the North Fish Hatchery Road corridor – to look like.
An update to an existing redevelopment plan presented to the Common Council in November sketches out a vision to urbanize the area from Greenway Cross to just south of Traceway Drive with a variety of housing and business projects, with some already in the works.
The timing of what is called the North Fish Hatchery Road Visioning and Implementation lines up with the Comprehensive Plan the city is updating and a $20 million rebuild of Fish Hatchery Road during 2020 and 2021. City staff and a consultant got a general consensus from the council and are already working with developers to put it into practice.
One of the projects that corresponds with the visioning plan– replacing a factory at Post Road with apartments and retail – is already up for a council review Jan. 14.
Redevelopment has in recent years helped revitalize major corridors of the Madison area such as East Washington Avenue, Park Street and Monona Drive, City of Fitchburg economic development director Michael Zimmerman said. The visioning presentation suggested a fully developed plan could add $300 million in value to the city.
“The timing seems right for north Fish Hatchery Road to experience a similar renaissance on a scale that makes sense for Fitchburg,” he said.
The plan proposes redevelopment for the northern portion of Fish Hatchery Road north Post Road, with neighborhood “stabilization and enhancement” for the apartment complexes to the west of Fish Hatchery Road near Greenway Cross and spaces for Youth Arts and Sports districts in the southeast, near the Jenni and Kyle Preserve and Capital Springs State Recreation Area.
The plan also includes planned areas for an “active senior village” just north of a 160-unit senior living apartment building is currently under construction, a “neighborhood hub” that could serve as a recreation center and an urban commercial frontage road on the east side of Fish Hatchery Road, that could also include mixed income housing.
Redeveloping the area was listed as a priority in the 2018-2022 Forward Fitchburg strategic plan approved in 2018, Zimmerman said. In the Forward Fitchburg plan, it describes the Fish Hatchery Road north of Post Road as an “aging, utilitarian corridor” that loses appeal as it approaches the Beltline.
“With this vision, The City of Fitchburg is taking a more proactive approach … to redevelopment and infill development in the north Fish Hatchery Road to build a gateway corridor reflective of Fitchburg’s community vision to transform this area into a vibrant urban district and cohesive neighborhood that attracts significant investment and increases the tax base,” Zimmerman said.
It’s the hope of the economic development department’s staff that the redevelopment plan will give interested developers some clarity on what kind of projects the city would like to see in the corridor and give momentum to private sector investment in the region, Zimmerman said.
Having a more clear redevelopment plan helps streamline the approval process through the Plan Commission and the council if proposals match the general idea of the redevelopment plan are brought to the city, Scott Harrington, a principal planner with Vandewalle and Associates, Inc., explained.
“Instead of reacting to private development proposals as they come forward, with you putting out your own vision and ideas, then they react to you,” he said. “That puts you in a stronger position to really make sure that your goals are met and these properties are optimized.”
A fresh opportunity
The city began planning the vision for the corridor in the early 2000s, but economic conditions changed in the following years.
Harrington said the vision has been updated to accommodate 14 years of change in Fitchburg.
“(The year) 2006 was kind of the eve of the Recession, so while there were a lot of good things that could still be carried forward from that plan, it was time to really step back and take another fresh look with today’s … prevailing market conditions,” he said.
At the time of the original redevelopment plan, called the North Fish Hatchery Road Opportunity Analysis, the Fitchburg Ridge Shopping Center was 80% vacant after a grocery store and a hardware store closed, Zimmerman wrote in an email to the Star. That prompted the city to look at what it could do to spur economic activity in the area.
“That north end of Fish Hatchery Road is the older section of the city that developed when we were still a Town, so it needed some attention and reinvestment,” he said. “Our intent was that public sector investment would hopefully spur private reinvestment.”
The city has already expanded the tax-increment financing district in that area TID 10 to encapsulate the majority of the corridor in order to fund the rebuild of North Fish Hatchery Road, Harrington noted, meaning the city can facilitate the process if a desirable project is brought forward. TIF is an economic tool used to help spur development by pooling property taxes from all underlying taxing jurisdictions, including the school district and county.
The visioning is partly based on the goals expressed in the city’s project plan for TID 10, created in 2018.
Three sites in the corridor have already begun redevelopment that’s being guided by the visioning plan.
This includes senior living apartments on Traceway, the recently opened UW Credit Union Branch to the north and Park Bank on the city’s northern border, which plans to rebuild its branch next year.
Another half-dozen sites along the corridor are being marketed for redevelopment, Harrington said.
“Most of them are under control of the developer, who has some plans for them,” he told the council.
A large chunk of area that’s under consideration for redevelopment is along the east side of North Fish Hatchery Road and south of Post Road. Much of the area is undeveloped, with a Valley View apartment building and a former All-Juice Midwest manufacturing plant.
The draft update of the plan suggests mixed income homes and urban commercial development there.
Another parcel that’s being actively sought for redevelopment is the Bowman Plaza, which houses a Stop-and-Go, as well as numerous other businesses in its L-shaped building on the western side of Fish Hatchery. The vision plan calls for an active senior village there.
Other areas marked for immediate redevelopment include a small oblong strip of land where a MetroPCS and a nail salon currently sit.
One of the primary motivations of redevelopment is increasing the value of properties in an area, but some alders expressed concerns about the consequences for existing businesses and residents.
One in particular would result in razing three The Fairways apartment buildings and the Fitchburg Ridge shopping center between Post Road and Traceway Drive. Alds. Julia Arata-Fratta (D-2) and Dorothy Krause (D-1) both said there needs to be a plan to address such gentrification.
Arata-Fratta said, who was in favor of keeping the Fitchburg Ridge Shopping Center, people who live all over the corridor are concerned about their rent rates increasing with redevelopment.
“It’s happening in the East Washington corridor,” she said. “When we bring these high-end market-rate properties … how are we going to deal with displacement?”
Krause said any redevelopment plan needs to work “really hard” to create suitable jobs and housing for the people who currently live in the area.
“Whatever we do up there, we’re going to want to focus on helping to find opportunities for those folks,” she said. “Like (Arata-Fratta) said, the strip mall has ethnic grocery stores … we need to be sure we replace those.”
Affordable housing could play a role in the redevelopment of the southeast corner of the redevelopment area.
Adjacent to planned commercial development at the intersection of Post Roads to the east would be medium density housing, Harrington said, with lower density housing development slightly further to the east on Post Road.
“We think there may be real potential here to include some starter or for-sale housing that would be at a price point that more folks could afford, and address some of the things that you brought out in your housing study that you had done last year, as well as some of what is in your Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative,” he said.