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Zoning in on land use
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MONROE - Monroe needs to reconsider zoning.

That was the consensus at a community input meeting Wednesday to address land use in the city. The topic of land use is the final subject in a series of similar meetings covering the issues of housing, transportation, recreation, the arts and utilities. The meetings are facilitated by the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, which will be drafting an updated comprehensive community plan for Monroe.

Savannah Ernzen, a SWWRPC planner, prefaced the discussion with the caveat that discussions of land use are often "touchy" for communities. But the group of about 15 had no problem agreeing that Monroe's zoning over the years has allowed conflicting land uses - industry next to residential areas, for example - and is in need of updating.

"Zoning is definitely something that needs to be addressed," said Phil Rath, Monroe's city administrator.

Themes from previous meetings on other topics, especially housing, resurfaced. Ryan Ziltner, a realtor in Monroe, said the city has a serious lack of quality rental housing to attract young professionals - an idea that's come up several times.

"Young professionals are not finding the quality they are looking for," he said. And the location within the city really doesn't matter, he said. "The biggest issue is not location; the biggest issue is quality."

Having high-end rental units would help keep younger people who work in Monroe from commuting from the Madison area, where such living options are plentiful. Ultimately, this will serve to help long-term employee retention for local businesses.

Zoning can be a roadblock to this type of development, as meeting participants said there isn't much availability in areas zoned for multi-family residential housing.

Another stumbling block is making the numbers work. While some believe Monroe landlords could charge Madison-area rents, $1,200 per month for high-quality rental units for example, others don't agree. Developers would also need to convince banks that such housing will be profitable. One option could be city incentives, as other communities offer, to help developers bridge the financial gap.

When looking at zoning overall in the city, Monroe could take a different approach. Aaron Holverson of Holverson Design in Monroe suggested the city consider form-based zoning. Under the traditional zoning model which Monroe uses, areas are designated for specific purposes, such as residential or industrial. But the form-based model looks at the physical form, or footprint, of the structure to be built, rather than its intended purpose, he said.

By using form-based zoning, industry is kept together as are residential neighborhoods. "Things naturally fall into place" using this methodology, he said. Others agreed the form-based model was worth further consideration.

Other ideas the group said deserve a closer look are more sidewalks throughout the city to make the community more navigable for walkers; dog-friendly city parks and potentially a dog park; widening truck routes to make it easier for vendors to deliver goods and materials to local manufacturers; and clearly marked bike paths, particularly leading bicyclists from bike trails to the downtown area and around schools.