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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."

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