F-35s Could Test Development: 192-Unit Apartment Buildings Proposed Near Airport

June 2, 2023

Jun. 1—A large housing project being proposed near the Dane County Regional Airport has prompted concerns from city staff about its proximity to East Washington Avenue traffic and outcry from environmentalists about putting more housing underneath noise from F-35 fighter jets now stationed at Truax Field.

The proposal from Bear Development, of Racine, would erect a five-story building and a four-story building with 57 parking stalls sandwiched between them at 3100 E. Washington Ave. and Ridgeway Avenue. Between them the buildings would house 192 apartment units, all of which are either one- or two-bedroom apartments. Other features of the development would include 110 underground parking spots and 5,800 square feet of amenity space.

Bear Development gave the city's Urban Design Commission its first look at the project during an informational presentation Wednesday evening.

Bear Development's Nick Orthmann stressed that the design was preliminary and the developer wanted feedback from the commission to inform changes throughout the design process.

Commission members largely seconded concerns from city staff about how close the building would sit to the bustling traffic of East Washington Avenue. Other members critiqued the proposal's lack of greenery and surface parking anchoring so much of the space between the development's two buildings.

"I am left wondering about the configuration of the building and is there a way to get perhaps the buildings connected in a way that perhaps frees up some green space, some green experience on the interior of the site," said commission member Russell Knudson.

City staff cited the amount of parking as a concern about the current plans for the site, particularly with the proposed development so close to a future bus rapid transit corridor on East Washington Avenue.

Members largely strayed from bringing up the roar of F-35 jets from nearby Truax Field that residents would be exposed to.

City Council member Marsha Rummel called it something the developers "should plan for." Commission member Christian Harper noted that certain building materials might mitigate the sound for residents.

The staff report makes no mention of noise from F-35s. The city's Plan Commission will decide if the land is suitable for housing, said Kevin Firchow, the city's principal planner.

Aircraft noise

Truax has been home to the Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing since 1948 and was most recently home to a group of F-16 jets that were among the oldest in operation.

In 2020, the Air Force chose two locations — Madison and Montgomery, Alabama — as the two latest Air National Guard locations that will fly the new F-35 jets.

In October, the 115th Fighter Wing moved the older generation F-16 fighter jets from Truax in preparation for the arrival of the F-35s. The first three of 20 F-35s arrived at Truax in late April. To accommodate the new jets, Truax is undergoing a roughly $120 million renovation.

Those opposed to the jets being stationed at Truax say noise and the possibility for other pollution will particularly affect low-income residents and people of color.

An Air Force environmental impact found that the presence of the F-35s will increase takeoffs from Truax by 27% and expose more than 1,000 homes to average daily noise of 65 decibels or more — a level deemed "incompatible" with residential use, though not uninhabitable.

The Safe Skies Clean Water Coalition, which has fought the basing of the planes in Madison, submitted a six-page letter to the Urban Design Commission outlining concerns with Bear Development's proposal.

We think it would be "irresponsible" for the commission to approve the proposal to build 192 units "in an area already considered incompatible for residential use," the letter says.

The commission, it says, should:

—Oppose the construction of the apartments and any future residential housing within the predicted 65 decibel noise contour and promote commercial and industrial developments in the area.

—Require Bear Development to update its application to review noise impacts expected at the project location, update its apartment design to assure it complies with FAA requirements for residential noise insulation, and include continuous noise monitoring.

—Protect children from noise exposure and require Bear Development to allow only 55 and older adults to live in the proposed apartments and, to avoid expanding "an airport ghetto," require Bear Development to only charge market rate and higher rents.

—Inform all future developers near the county airport and Truax Field that their proposals must recognize and address the noise impacts at their project location.

—Develop a policy to address residential development in noise-impacted neighborhoods surrounding the county airport and Truax Field.

In other commission business, members gave their blessing to a housing development on the 400 block of State Street after more than a year of sending the developer back to the drawing board to redesign the building.

The five-story building would house 25 units with a ground floor slated for commercial space. Under the plan, three two-story buildings at 428-430, 432-436 and 440-444 State St. would be demolished.

The proposal from developer JD McCormick Properties has faced a tough showing before the Urban Design Commission since first being introduced last February.

The commission delayed a proper recommendation on the development three times since then, asking the design team to make the building more in sync with State Street's rhythm and aesthetic.

The development's previous designs have been replaced with a two-tone building of white and gray. A five-bedroom apartment would sit at the back of the building's roof to the north and sit next to a common area deck on the roof.

"I think we've come up with a pretty decent looking building," Harper said. "This one bothers me way, way, way less than a lot of the other stuff including nearby projects that are under construction right now that really made me feel bad about the progression of design on State Street."

Commission members voted 5-3 in support of the development. The city's Plan Commission will review it on June 26 before a potential City Council decision on July 11.

Dean Mosiman can be reached at dmosiman@madison.com. Lucas Robinson can be reached at lrobinson@madison.com


(c)2023 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

Visit The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) at www.wisconsinstatejournal.com