A Look at Milwaukee’s Proposed Zoning Reform

The proposed changes would permit more flexible housing development while limiting changes in historic neighborhoods and on smaller streets.

1 minute read

May 10, 2024, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Aerial view of homes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with brick university buildings in distance.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin. | James / Adobe Stock

A zoning reform proposal from Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson aims to promote a wider variety of housing types and make housing more affordable, writes Jeramey Jannere in Urban Milwaukee. The proposal calls for allowing live-work units and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in most of the city, allowing three- and four-story buildings in more zones, and unbundling the cost of parking from rent, among other adjustments. Today, 40 percent of residential zones in Milwaukee allow only single-family homes.

The changes would largely affect commercial corridors and areas near transit. “At the same time it allows more options across the city, it also has components, based on lot width and other factors, designed to restrict large or wide new buildings from being developed in historic lower-density residential areas. The net result is an attempt to drive the highest density new development to commercial areas or existing high-density areas, while allowing only incremental changes in density on residential side streets.” Critics of this practice warn that limiting upzoning to major streets disproportionately exposes residents of multifamily housing to air pollution and other impacts. 

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