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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Huntsville's Limestone County gets a land use plan

Huntsville unveiled this week a land-use plan for 9,323 acres of newly-annexed land in east Limestone County south of 72, east of I-65 and north of I-565. The plan was created by Sasaki Associates, a planning and design consulting firm with offices in Boston and San Francisco.

The land-use plan creates mixed-use villages surrounding a 1,500-acre major employment anchor, such as a new Research Park, or as The Birmingham News reported recently, a new Audi plant.

The long-term plan calls for 3-5 million square ft. of office space, 550,000-800,000 sq. ft. of retail, 2-7 million sq. ft. of industrial space, and 10-12,000 total residential units (single and multi-family). Development would be clustered into several mixed-use villages. Along with the plans for new development, the site's "greenprint" was also taken into consideration, where existing tree cover, flood plains/fringes, and wetlands remain mostly untouched. A network of trails and parks would connect parks, employment centers, and residential areas together. The street network in the plan included few cul-de-sacs, instead adopting a traditional "grid pattern." The plan assumed that the conventional zoning currently in place would be complemented by the form-based SmartCode overlay currently being worked on by the city's Planning Department.

The land use plan. (Photo credit: Sasaki/City of Huntsville)
My one major criticism of the plan is how much of this "smart growth" supposedly hinges on two new not-so-smart highways-- the Memphis-to-Atlanta interstate and Greenbrier Parkway. The economic portion of the report suggests that the amount of jobs and economic impact on the site would almost double, and congestion would magically disappear, if the two highways were to be built. While other cities and states are realizing that you can't build your way out of congestion, we think it's necessary to construct an interstate-grade highway terminating at a "spaghetti junction" complete with flyovers at what is now the intersection of two farm roads. I recognize that Browns Ferry and Greenbrier may have to be widened to 4 or 5-lanes one day, but a freeway? That sounds a bit overkill. Hopefully by then (being optimistic here) we will have embraced transportation alternatives.
The annexed area's proposed road network. (Photo credit: Sasaki/City of Huntsville)
Speaking of that, I've always thought it would be awesome if Greenbrier were one day transformed into a "transit village"-- a small  New England-style town anchored by a train station, an intermediate stop on a Huntsville-Madison-Decatur commuter rail line. It would remain in compliance with the land-use plan, though the village could be larger if Greenbrier Parkway were to be scrapped.

Mayor Battle made a good point at the presentation of the plan to the Planning Commission-- this plan will have to be changed every few years to account for unforeseen changes. And with that in mind, I think that the plan is a good start.

The plan now goes to a Planning Commission public hearing on August 23rd.

Download the land-use plan report here.
Download the Fiscal and Economic Report here.


Nicole said...

Thanks for the coverage of this and the link to the plan. It is much more comprehensive than the Huntsville Times web article, which just made me mad.

I agree -- we are missing a huge opportunity for public transit infrastructure to be put in, or at least planned and the easements in place until such a time as the money and public support is there. The massive road development is ill-conceived and very rear-facing. And I am also glad they are looking at smart growth instead of more sprawl.

HOWEVER... we are talking about annexing and developing more land when Huntsville already has too much. Our existing infrastructure is deteriorating and ignored while we chase the latest new development area. Meanwhile, we are going to use smart growth to "preserve" open space and farmland by paving it over? It's better than letting it be nibbled away by far flung suburbs, but how about we focus on greyfield development first?

It's not truly smart growth when it's just a new kind of car-based exurb.

Dennis said...

Exciting news for Huntsville. I fully agree on the need to plan for alternate transportation.

Let's hope Audi (or something even bigger) happens.

Anonymous said...

A lot of states are going to aggressively pursue any new Audi plant. What do you think are Huntsville's chances of landing it? Was this land use plan developed to help lure Audi to the Limestone County site?


Anonymous said...

Audi has just recently planned an expansion and you can tell this land use plan has been studied for quite a while. I would say Huntsville has as good of a chance if not better than any other state given their past with the parent company.

Also I think this plan is Huntsville way to lure companies to the area to show them they have a vision for the area and wont be just farmland.Something that might have hurt them with Volkswagen.