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No new posts are being added to this blog. For planning news and updates, check out The BIG Picture Huntsville (also on Facebook). For transportation info, check out the Huntsville Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Westin Huntsville to open March 27

The 11-story Westin Huntsville at Bridge Street will open on March 27, according to the developers. The hotel and condo tower will feature 210 rooms on the first 6 floors and condos on the top 5. The Westin website is now taking reservations for the rooms as early as April 19th.

Other stores and restaurants to open at Bridge Street in March:
  • Francesca's Collection- mid-March
  • S&K Menswear- March 16th
  • Crabtree and Evelyn- March 22nd
  • Cantina Laredo- March 25th
  • Juicy Couture- March 27th
  • Ketchup- Late March

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Another height limit update

The Huntsville Planning Commission will keep the 10 story height limit in place in order to "protect the integrity" of downtown. However, they also plan to raise the height limit near residential areas from 2 stories to 6. And in a bit of irony, the commission continued Huntsville's suburban sprawl by approving "several large subdivisions."

Huntsville Times article

Something tells me they are going to regret this decision. This is a terrible move on the city's part. What would you rather see, a parking lot or a 24-story condo tower? A run-down mall or a vibrant entertainment district? Ten years from now, don't be surprised to see our "historic" downtown become dilapidated and blighted. Those historic homes we tried to save from "shadows" and "noisy ventilation systems" will be worthless. People, this isn't Charleston or Savannah. Huntsville isn't known for its historic downtown. It's known for its ability to progress and change. We need to get out of this small town mentality and think like a major city. Because, ready or not, we're fast becoming one.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mellow Mushroom update

It's confirmed...
Mellow Mushroom is coming to Providence! A sign went up today on the ground floor of a future commercial building in the "town center" announcing that the Atlanta-based pizza chain is "coming shroom" to Huntsville. The restaurant is expected to open in August.

Friday, February 22, 2008

City Council considers Big Spring building ban

Councilman Glenn Watson unveiled a draft of an ordinance that would ban building on Big Spring Park and the adjacent Holiday Inn hotel site, which is owned by Big Spring Partners, a downtown redevelopment company formed by the city a few years ago. Other council members voiced their concerns about the consequences of the ordinance, including future expansion of the Von Braun Center, a proposed federal courthouse, and a proposed hotel on the site of the current Holiday Inn.

Speaking of that proposed hotel, it is being developed by John Q. Hammons, the same developer who built the Embassy Suites hotel across the street from the Holiday Inn. Looks like he's back for seconds.

Huntsville Times article

The city council already has the authority to restrict what goes into Big Spring Park- it's city land. Huntsville has one of the "greenest" downtowns in the country, with more greenspace on the way with the proposed "riverwalk" along Pinhook Creek. I think that they should lift the height limit on downtown buildings first. Developers could then build "up" more than "out", and there wouldn't be any need to take up more greenspace!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hartselle development

Hartselle is growing with more to come, according to a Decatur Daily article:
  • Walgreens opened yesterday at the corner of Alabama 36 and US 31.
  • Lowe's plans a store on US 31- bids on the project are due by the end of the month, with construction to begin probably this spring.
  • CVS/Pharmacy, Arby's and Guthrie's have all expressed interest in coming to Hartselle.
  • Aronov Realty of Montgomery is possibly developing a shopping center near the I-65/AL 36 interchange. Publix is rumored as the anchor tenant. If built, it would be the 12th Publix in the Huntsville/Decatur area, granted that it would be completed after the Athens and Harvest stores are built.

Apartment building/garage rendering

The plans for the apartment building and public parking garage downtown at the corner of Holmes and Green were shown last night at a meeting in City Hall. Both buildings will be six floors, with the apartment building having 52 residential units of various sizes.

The Times article talked about several downtown public-private projects that have fallen through in the past few years. One was with a developer that wanted to build a 28,000 sq. ft. grocery store in conjunction with a city garage. Another was the proposed convention hotel that eventually evolved into the Embassy Suites project. Mayor Spencer revealed at last night's meeting that a "North Carolina developer" has plans for a similar mixed-use project in conjunction with a parking garage somewhere else downtown.

From the looks of it, I really don't see why people are so up in arms about it. It is a very nice-looking building that will blend in well with its surroundings; kudos to the architect. This is exactly why there shouldn't be a height limit downtown.
Here it is, from the front page of the Huntsville Times:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Height limits debated again....

The recently-imposed downtown height limit was debated at yesterday's planning subcommittee meeting. The limit is currently at 10 stories and 150 feet. By comparison, Regions Center, the tallest building in the CBD, is 170 feet. Some of the projects that have been hampered by the limit:
  • Randy Scrimsher's two downtown residential projects: A 24-story condo tower at the corner of Holmes and Jefferson and an apartment building at Holmes and Lincoln.
  • The Constellation mixed-use project, being developed by Scott McLain, has proposed 5-and 7-story buildings, but the current limit restricts buildings across the street from a residential neighborhood to no more than two floors. A housing project is located across Memorial Parkway from the development.
  • According to McLain, "out-of-town" developers dropped plans to build a 20-story hotel downtown because they did not want to "fight city hall" with the height limit.
My two cents: Huntsville has to make do with a downtown area designed for a town of 20,000, and space is an issue. With land prices being so high in the CBD, developers want to make the most of their land investment. And a 10-story building sometimes doesn't cut it. Huntsville is approaching 200,000 people, with a region of 700,000; we need a skyline that reflects that. A downtown skyline gives outsiders an image of the city. Do we really want people to think that Huntsville isn't willing to progress and move forward?

I think that the downtown height limits should be looked at through a case-by-case basis. A one or two block "buffer zone" between the Twickenham/Old Town neighborhoods and the CBD can be put in place, but at a more reasonable 60-70 ft. (4-5 floors) instead of 30 ft. Leave the rest of the downtown area unrestricted. If taller buildings bring more people downtown and in turn make it more vibrant, then I can handle a couple of "shadows, light intrusions and noisy ventilation systems."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Meeting set to discuss downtown parking garage/apartment building

Looks like Randy Scrimsher's long-awaited downtown condo (now apartment) building is finally coming to life. A meeting has been set for Monday night at City Hall to discuss plans for his planned apartment building and an adjacent city parking garage. The six-story garage will have 400-500 spaces and 10,000 sq. ft in retail space on the ground floor (the city has talked to a sandwich shop, dry cleaners and a small grocery store). Construction will begin by this summer.

Scrimsher's downtown residential development was announced about 5 years ago as a 21-story condo tower with a parking garage. When it seemed like it was dead, the development came up again last year during a height limits debate. I'm not sure how tall the building will be- I've heard anything from 10 stories to 25. But a rendering will probably be shown at the meeting on Monday, and all will be revealed.

Also, there was something else that was interesting in the article: city director for Parking and Public Transit Tommy Brown said that the next possible location for more city parking is at the corner of Green and Eustis, with the potential of development there.

Huntsville Times article: New parking, apartments downtown

UPDATE: It appears that this is a totally different project than the 21 (now 24) story condo project proposed earlier. Even better! Thanks to "HSVTiger" for clarifying that.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ovation dies, Constellation lives

Ovation is now officially dead as of 5pm yesterday (Feb. 5). That was the deadline for Triad Properties to find an adequate restaurant tenant for the Summit office building, or they would lose the lease option for a proposed condo building adjacent to it. There are no plans to extend the option.

However, also yesterday during an emergency Planning Commission meeting, the Constellation mixed-use development was saved from possible doom. Developer Scott McLain said that one of the hotels proposed for the project was in jeopardy if action wasn't taken on approving the project. The two hotels, a Courtyard by Marriott and a Spring Hill Suites, will be the first part of the project to begin construction, which could be later this month or next. Constellation also includes retail/restaurant space, office space, and 80-100 condos priced at $200,000-300,000, a bargain compared to other downtown condo projects and the now-dead Ovation, where condos would have gone for more than $400,000.

Huntsville Times article: One project is dead, second ok'd

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Terry Heights redevelopment

The Housing Authority is asking for proposals for redeveloping the Terry Heights neighborhood, which includes the Sparkman Homes housing project. The neighborhood is located along Holmes Avenue just west of downtown. The study is part of a plan to build a consolidated elementary school in the neighborhood. The deadline for the study proposals is February 22.

In the past couple of years, the Housing Authority has been looking at redeveloping its housing projects, especially the ones closest to downtown. The Councill Court project between downtown and the Medical District could be sold to a developer and redeveloped as early as this year. And a couple of weeks ago, the Searcy Homes project was purchased by the city and will be razed for a greenway along Pinhook Creek and a possible future expansion of the Von Braun Center. The projects to the northwest of downtown are probably next- the Downtown Master Plan designates that area as a future "office district."

Friday, February 1, 2008

A CVS for Meridianville

Meridianville keeps on growing. A Publix opened there in November, and this month, construction will start on a new CVS Pharmacy at US 231 and Patterson Lane. Expect the area to see more retail in the coming years. One development to watch is Walkers Hill, at US 231 and Steger Road, which will be a large subdivision along with a 150 acre commercial development. No word yet on when that is expected to begin. Meridianville's retail scene seems to be at the point where Northeast Huntsville was a decade ago- a few fast food restaurants, two supermarkets, and other stores have opened in the past few years, following the population boom that keeps moving north. So, with Target coming to Northeast as soon as next year, could we see Target coming to Meridianville ten years from now? Maybe, but it's too early to start speculating on anything that far away.