- Zoning codes support and encourage mixed-use development, more residential variety, and sustainable land use.
- Zoning codes support and encourage the design and implementation of high-quality, market-driven projects.
- Huntsville housing stock offers a range of products to individuals and families in all phases of life.
- The Zoning Map is context-appropriate: adjacent land uses are not incompatible (for example, avoid the location of Industrial zones are not immediately adjacent to Low-Density Residential zones).
In discussing a vision for the future of Huntsville, it is rare that the talk turns to zoning and land use. However, the way in which a community regulates growth has a very real impact on the nature of new development and redevelopment. Zoning is not something that typically excites the imagination. However, ensuring that zoning is not only consistent with, but supportive of, modern market-driven development is one of the most effective methods for shaping a community’s built environment.
Zoning is an important tool in setting development patterns in a community. While current codes and designations served past growth patterns well, in many cases they are not in step with current market trends and consumer demand. Ongoing update efforts – like the creation of the new Commercial C-6 designation – represents progress toward supporting changes in development approaches that are already being built throughout the US, and in parts of Huntsville.
There are two broad designations in which zoning might shape the future growth of the city: Mixed-Use, and Residential.
The new C-6 zoning is an excellent first step in not merely allowing, but encouraging, mixed use development. Going forward, the City may build on C-6 to offer varying scales of mixed-use zoning. For instance, one designation would deal with small, community-scale nodes that might involve offices or flats over small neighborhood storefronts. A mid-range category might offer a little more density for a corridor like Bailey Cove Road or Oakwood Avenue, and higher-density designation would support multi-story development along major routes like Memorial Parkway. The key would be to make a clear and streamlined process for the private sector to deliver the sorts of development that would both answer the market and be desirable for communities.
Residential zoning could likewise benefit from a review. Recognizing not only that Huntsville is growing, but also that our demographics are changing, it is important to diversify the available housing stock. The region has built heavily in the single-family detached market, and in the mid-rise apartment market, but the community has lost a significant amount of what is referred to as “missing middle housing”.
This term refers to traditional housing types such as duplexes, townhomes, courtyard apartments, bungalow courts and live/work units. These have – in the past- provided the opportunity for greater density in neighborhoods without creating development that was out of scale. Historically, there has been much more of this type of housing available in American cities. However, in the last half century, through changes in the market and changes in zoning, many of these options have fallen by the wayside.
A noticeable shift in demand is occurring. As people of all age groups look for more choice in housing – both in type and context –Huntsville is poised to respond. By reviewing zoning regulations and adding potential refinements to residential designations, the development community can be given the flexibility needed to provide a greater variety of housing options. By reviewing land use, the community can locate missing middle housing around neighborhood centers and along corridors, and lessen redevelopment pressure on single-family neighborhoods.
With an updated zoning code, there could be more refinement between R-1 (exclusively single-family detached) and R-2 (from townhomes and duplexes up to hotels and office buildings). This would allow the introduction of variety in key areas – like town centers and small corridors – without allowing incompatible changes in density. The housing grain would be more flexible, and could be tailored to accommodate an individual neighborhood’s needs and comfort.
It’s important to remember that the challenge lies not only in the zoning regulations, but also in how they are applied. There are many areas within the city limits that were given a designated zoning decades ago, but around which the context has changed. For instance, there are numerous light industrial sites that are now surrounded by residential neighborhoods. A review of good zoning policy also should include a review of the current designations, to see if they still serve the best interests of residents and businesses.
Conduct five-year zoning reviews to track regulations with performance of built development.
Conduct ten-year zoning designation reviews to ensure potential future development is still consistent with existing zoning.
Update commercial zoning categories to include more variations, by scale, on the mixed-use theme. Categories may range from neighborhood-scale mixed-use nodes to multi-acre developments adjacent to Memorial Parkway.
Update residential zoning to enable/encourage more variety in housing options, including townhomes, duplexes/quads, bungalow courts, multi-generational, etc.
Any new large-scale mixed-use development that includes a substantial housing component should be encouraged to include a variety in types and scales of housing offerings.