Land Use

Land Use CoverAlong with economics and transportation, the analysis of land use is an important way a community can shape the character of the city and perform placemaking to help BIG Picture ideas become reality. This includes land use types, trends, analysis of current zoning and existing development patterns.

Land Use Types

Land use was divided into seven categories:
  • Water
     Includes Rivers, Creeks, and Lakes
  • Urban Open
     Includes Parks and Golf Courses
  • Low Density Development
     Single-family residential and neighborhood commercial
  • High Density Development
     Multi-family residential, regional retail centers, and industrial sites
  • Forest
     Non-agricultural wooded land
  • Cropland
     Agricultural land
  • Quarry
     Active rock quarries
Use the arrows to navigate; click on any image to enlarge:

Zoning

Zoning is one of the main methods that communities use to mold land use. Below is an primer of the main categories that exist in Huntsville’s current zoning ordinance. 

Residential Zoning

Sanctuary Cove
Single-family homes in the Sanctuary Cove subdivision in East Huntsville.
Most of Huntsville’s residential districts are designated for low-density, making single-family homes the majority of the housing stock in the city. Some pockets of residential zoning allow for apartments and townhomes—Jones Valley, Martin-Zierdt, and the Northwest subarea to name a few. Another residential zoning designation—Planned Development-Housing—has been used for master-planned communities like The Ledges and Providence to allow for a set of guidelines specific to that neighborhood.
Residential districts in the City of Huntsville:
Low Density 
  • R1- Residential 1
    Single-family detached homes, churches, government use
  • R1A- Residential 1-A 
    Same uses as R1, smaller minimum lot size
  • R1B- Residential 1-B
             Same uses as R1, even smaller minimum lot size
  • R1C- Residential 1-C
             Same uses as R1, smaller minimum lot size (for historic neighborhoods)
High Density 
  • R2- Residential 2 
             R1 plus townhomes and duplexes
  • R2A- Residential 2-A
             Same uses as R2, allows for apartment complexes
  • R2B- Residential 2-B
             R2 plus hotels and office buildings
Planned Development
  • PD- Planned Development 
             A master-planned development of any use
  • PDH- Planned Development Housing
             Same as PD, with housing as primary land use
Other
  • RO2- Residential Office 2 
             Transitional zone for residential areas becoming office districts
Residential Zoning

Multi-Family Zoning

Addison Park
Addison Park Apartments in Northwest Huntsville.
Multi-family residential—apartments and condos—aren’t restricted to high-density residential districts. It’s also allowed on major transportation corridors as well as downtown.
This map shows zoning districts that allow multi-family residential development. This includes, but not limited to:
Residential R-2A, R-2B
Commercial C-1, C-2, C-3
Industrial LI, HI

Multi-Family ZoningRetail Zoning

Hunnington Center
Hunnington Center in Southeast Huntsville.
Zoning districts that allow retail are located along heavily-traveled corridors such as Memorial Parkway, University Drive, and Jordan Lane.
Commercial zoning districts in the City of Huntsville:
C1- Neighborhood Business C-1
  • Small shops, restaurants, offices
C2- Neighborhood Business C-2
  • C-1 with billboards
C3- Central Business District
  • Downtown businesses and upper-level residences
C4- Highway Commercial
  • Retail and restaurants catering to a broader region (e.g. big-box stores)
C5- Commercial Recreation
  • Recreational facilities (amusement parks, campgrounds, golf courses…)
RPC- Research Park Commercial 
  • Retail and services within the Research Park area (e.g. Bridge Street)
Retail Zoning

Office Zoning

Regions Center
Regions Center in Downtown Huntsville—the tallest office building in the city.
Office districts are located in clusters of high employment and daytime population. There is, however, little co-location with retail and residential. Examples include Cummings Research Park, Jetplex, and Chase Industrial Park.
Office districts in the City of Huntsville:
M- Medical District
  • Hospitals, clinics, offices, related businesses
M2- Medical 2 District
  • Same as M, but with lower density controls
O- Office
  • Offices and upper-floor residential 
Office Zoning

Industrial Zoning

Chase Industrial
An industrial building in Chase Industrial Park in North Huntsville.
Industrial districts are located in areas with large manufacturing and support facilities. The “Light Industry” zoning district is an interesting exception—much of the property along Memorial Parkway has this designation, allowing for development with little landscaping or buffer requirements.
Industrial districts in the City of Huntsville:
HI- Heavy Industry
  • Retail, industrial, large apartment complexes
LI- Light Industry
  • Same as HI except jails and helipads
IP- Industrial Park
  • Industrial and office uses only
CIP- Commercial Industrial Park
  • Retail and light industrial activity; more landscaping, sign restrictions 
Industrial Zoning

Research Park Zoning

Digium
An office building in Cummings Research Park West in Southwest Huntsville.
Research Park districts include not just Cummings Research Park, but Huntsville’s trio of four-year institutions—Alabama A&M, Oakwood, and UAH.
Research Park districts in the City of Huntsville:
RP- Research Park
  • Offices, public and educational institutions, agriculture
RPW- Research Park West
  • Same as RP, but offices restricted to research and development
RPA- Research Park Applications
  • Allows for manufacturing facilities in Research Park
RPA-2- Research Park Applications 2
  • Same as RPA, but allows additional manufacturing operations
Research Park Zoning

Find Your Zoning District

Type an address in the box below to find out which existing zoning district it’s located in. (City of Huntsville addresses only. Official zoning maps are available from the City of Huntsville’s GIS division, located at City Hall.)

Structures

Huntsville may be a sprawling city as a whole, but it does have pockets of density. In fact, some neighborhoods in the West Central subarea have densities of more than 5,000 people per square mile—comparable to the average density of cities like Pittsburgh and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Five Points AerialFor example, the Five Points neighborhood is pictured on the right. Within this area, there’s a school, parks, shops, restaurants, a grocery store—and a variety of housing stock. The neighborhood was developed in the early 1900s as a “streetcar suburb”—an easily walkable area not designed around the automobile.
Research park AerialOf course, Five Points isn’t the norm in Huntsville. Much of the city looks like the picture on the left. This is Cummings Research Park West, an office park developed in the 1980s. Office space is the dominant use. Except for a few corporate cafeterias, CRP doesn’t have  restaurants; no retail or residential development is allowed within the park. It was designed for drinving. And there’s nothing sinister about that—it’s the way office parks were designed in that era.
Providence AerialWe’re now seeing a movement towards the “traditional” neighborhood design, where not only driving, but walking, biking or transit makes life easily accessible. Providence, pictured on the right, is located in the Northwest subarea off University Drive, was an early adopter of “Traditional Neighborhood Development”, sometimes referred to as “New Urbanism.”Structures

Housing Age

Will everyone want to live in a “traditional” neighborhood? Of course not. Therefore, it’s important for the city to have a diverse housing stock of various shapes and sizes. We also need to prevent neighborhoods from falling into a cycle of disinvestment. Read more about the BIG Picture’s Neighborhood Revitalization Citizens Academy.
Next, we’ll take a look at the age of housing in some of Huntsville’s neighborhoods. The following images show the age of residential structures in Madison County, based on public property records (use the arrows to navigate; click on any image to enlarge).

Flood Plain

1973 Flood
Memorial Parkway and Bob Wallace Ave. after a flood in 1973. (Image source: National Weather Service-Huntsville Office)
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) designates floodway, flood fringe, and floodplain boundaries to determine rates for flood insurance. These areas have special development restrictions that prevent many large-scale projects from occurring without expensive engineering and drainage work. Note: Areas in a floodway or flood fringe have a greater than 0.2 percent chance of flooding any given year (once in 100 years, on average)


View larger map

Slope Development Districts

The Slope Development Districts (SDDs) were created in 1996 to restrict development on mountain slopes for two reasons: to preserve the slopes as open land; and to prevent landslides. Specific regulations for the SDDs can be found in the city’s Zoning Ordinance. SDDs are most important in determining developable land in East, East Central, and Southeast Huntsville. Much of the open land in the area is undevelopable in a large scale due to the SDDs.Slope Development 4-15

Developable Land

East Subarea Developable

Due to regulatory constraints such as Slope Development Districts and floodplains, the fast-growing East subarea is quickly running out of developable land.

Huntsville has 37,905 acres of developable land in its current city limits– approximately 59 square miles, or about 28 percent of the city’s land area. Much of this land is located in East Limestone and north of Winchester Road. Other large swaths of developable land are located in Research Park West, Redstone Gateway, and Jones Valley.Developable 2015

Impervious Surfaces

Madison Square
Madison Square Mall in the Southwest Huntsville subarea.
This map shows every road, sidewalk, driveway, and parking lot in Huntsville. In some cases, you can even see individual buildings, outlined by their parking lots. Madison Square Mall can be seen in the image to the right, surrounded by an asphalt parking lot that spans dozens of acres.Madison Square ImperviousImpervious Surfaces

Public and Assisted Housing

Todd Towers in Downtown Huntsville.

The Huntsville Housing Authority has over 1,000 housing units in the city of Huntsville. The largest complexes are located in West Central Huntsville. Other large developments are located in Downtown and North Huntsville, with smaller developments scattered throughout the city. In addition to public housing developments, the map below includes Section 8 housing by subarea.Public Housing by Subarea

Unsafe Buildings

There were a total of 774 buildings classified as “unsafe” by the City of Huntsville Department of Community Development between 2010 and 2013. Of these, 41 were classified “Boarded and Secured.” Every subarea had unsafe buildings during the time period, with the majority concentrated in the North and West Central subareas.Unsafe Buildings

Takeaways and Next Steps

Understanding current land use patterns is crucial in assessing the health and potential of a city’s development.  The construction of low density strip malls surrounded by single-family residential subdivisions was the predominant development pattern in Huntsville and most U.S. cities during the latter half of the 20th Century.  However, as demographics change, consumer preferences evolve.  Low density land use patterns, which may have been appropriate in the past, may not be sustainable in the future.  Although this issue is being faced by many cities today, it presents a unique challenge in Huntsville, which experienced much of its growth during this period.

Next: Community Facilities