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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.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

An Apartment Building Boom?

I've been asked by several readers lately why there seems to be so many apartment projects being built in Huntsville right now. But after reviewing thirty years of housing data for the city, it turns out that the current “spurt” in apartment construction isn't anywhere near record-breaking; in fact, it’s just a little better than average.
A look at multi-family units completed by year in Huntsville city limits. (Graph by James Vandiver)
Multi-family developments (mostly apartments, but some condos) in Huntsville have come in “waves” over the past thirty years. As you can see from the graph above, after a record-breaking 2,558 new units in 1984, construction steadily decreased over the next decade, bottoming out at zero units in 1996. Since then, development has been erratic, ranging from 1,112 units opening in 2008 to a mere 4 units just three years later. This year, around 600 units are expected to be completed; the average over the past thirty years is around 500 units.

Here’s a map of apartment projects that are planned, under construction or recently completed within Huntsville city limits. Blue pushpins indicate completed projects; red pushpins are projects under construction; green pushpins are proposed developments. 

View Huntsville Apartment Development in a larger map

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Urban Food Ordinances: Part I

The El Cazador "taco bus" on Governors Drive. (Photo courtesy Ashley Nichols/City of Huntsville)
By the City's count, there's at least seven food trucks scattered throughout Huntsville, from the El Cazador "taco bus" on Governors (pictured) to the Peppered Pig on South Parkway to Sugar Belle, which sells cupcakes out of a converted Army transport vehicle. All of these (except the taco bus) have begun operation in the past few years, and if other cities are any indication, we expect a lot more in the near future.

This week, an ordinance regulating mobile food vendors (e.g. food trucks) will begin to make its way through Huntsville City Hall. (This one is different than the one that was passed by the City Council last month outlining special rules for food trucks on city property in Downtown.) Save for any changes or opposition, this ordinance could take effect in late September.

Below is a summary of the proposed ordinance as it stands now.

Permitted zones: Commercial districts C-3 and above, All industrial districts.*  

A map showing zoning districts can be found at maps.huntsvilleal.gov (turn on the “zoning districts” layer)

*An attempt to allow them in Research Park zones-- except for around Bridge Street-- during lunchtime was denied by the Research Park Board, due to perceived aesthetics and the lack of public restrooms in the area.

Buffers: There will be a 100-foot buffer from the entrance of existing food establishments. This is to prevent food trucks from setting up shop in front of established “bricks-and-mortar” restaurants, possibly giving the trucks an unfair advantage and diminishing the visibility of the nearby restaurant(s).

Hours: Food trucks will be allowed to operate between 6am-10pm Sun-Wed and 6am-2am Thu-Sun.

Potties: Restrooms must be available for employees within 500 feet of the food truck, in accordance with Health Department regulations. In food truck parks, however, a "fixed" bathroom (no porta-potties) must be available for employees and patrons. 

Restricted Areas: Food trucks will not be allowed in loading zones, public rights-of-way*, or any area that would obstruct the flow of traffic for neighboring businesses.

*The only exception to this are the designated parking spots downtown where food trucks are allowed to set up shop for limited hours on Thursday-Saturday nights. Mobile food carts, like the "hot dog guys" set up around the courthouse square, are allowed downtown under separate street vendor ordinances. 

Noise: No loudspeakers will be permitted.

Lights: Artificial lighting must be provided for nighttime operations. 

You may view the entire ordinance here.

Coming up in Part II: An ordinance that will include urban farms, community gardens, and farmers’ markets, as well as guidelines for poultry in residential districts.