The City of Madison Approval Process

City of Madison WI Entitlement Process

A primer in patience and preparation

In Wisconsin, few cities match the rigor of the City of Madison approval process. This entitlement process can be challenging or useful, depending on how the design team approaches the City. Architects, Engineers, Developers, and Owners are best served by engaging City staff, elected officials, and neighborhood groups early and considering each as an extension of the design team, equally as interested in success as the Owner.

Receiving a City of Madison Approval

A successful approach includes four major steps:

  1. Understand the Regulatory and Political Requirements: The project owner should be aware of the minimum requirements for a financially viable project before engaging with the City of Madison, and work with experienced design professionals to ensure alignment with existing zoning or obtain necessary variances. It is crucial to gain support from elected officials and align with city staff planning goals.
  2. Engage Alderperson: Depending on the area, it may be appropriate to approach the area Alderperson to discuss the project. Alders are interested in successful projects supported by constituents and benefiting the district. Introducing the project through informal meetings, such as over coffee, may be suitable and help to build early project support.
  3. Partner with City Staff: The City of Madison has a planning department with experienced staff in zoning, planning, and development. Scheduling an initial conversation with city staff allows for the review of early conceptual design ideas. Project owners should come prepared, knowing what can be changed, added, or removed, and be open to staff suggestions.
  4. Engage Neighborhood Groups: Meeting with neighborhood associations, where they exist, is wise. Reviewing past development efforts and understanding key issues relevant to the project, such as historical appearance or changes in building use types, helps avoid repeating past mistakes.

The design team can focus on site plan verification (entitlement process) once these four partnering steps are complete. In Madison, this entitlement process can take several months to complete.

It is important to plan ahead and approach the Madison Approval process in a collaborative way, according to Mr. Kirk Keller. Mr. Keller has spent years successfully partnering with the City, seeking approval on projects of many types and complexities. Kirk offers his deeper insight into the City of Madison approval process in this new PRA Whitepaper.