HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Huntsville city planners worked with the council to create a new type of zoning meant to revitalize struggling areas in unique ways. It's called a C6 Village Business District.
Thursday, the council voted the first ever piece of property into that zone: the area West of Seminole Drive and South of 8th Avenue. It's just to the West of Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment, and leaders say it will soon become a mixed-use development.
What is C6 zoning?
"This is a new zoning district that we created," said planner Jim McGuffey. "We feel it's cohesive with the neighborhood. It has restrictions to protect the neighborhood, but also gives developers flexibility to design new things."
This is something city leaders have said they need, to update the city's zones and keep them current with emerging trends.
This rezone means the way is clear for developer Invent Huntsville, LLC (the Huntsville component of Invent Communities, LLC) to proceed with the planned mixed-use development at Lowe Mill.
But leaders say they also believe many more C6 districts are to come as people see the success of the Lowe Mill area in that district.
"It allows us to take older neighborhoods and revitalize them and encourage more investment in those neighborhoods," said City Administrator John Hamilton. "Our expectation is that as this small project moves forward, it will be a catalyst... It now opens up opportunities for other developers."
Hamilton says he expects C6 to be used in existing neighborhoods and parts of Huntsville that are older and in need of revitalization.
What's next for Lowe Mill?
The area around Lowe Mill, the old Lowe Mill Village, is historic and special to the people who live there. Developers say they want to preserve that value.
"We couldn't be more excited to invest in the Lowe Mill area," commented Abby Wheeler, Invent Communities Director of Development, "just to introduce something that's neighborhood-centric, that can be an asset to an historic community."
Wheeler said the planning for the mixed-use development is still in the early stages, but will ramp up soon.
"Right now, the plan is really conceptual. We have worked a lot with the neighborhood and the city to imagine what that is going to look like," she said.
Right now, the city still owns the vacant area where the development will sit. That will change hands in the next few months.
"We hope to close, hand it over to the developer soon," explained McGuffey, "which will give them the opportunity to start design and from there, we hope to review plans. Look at the architecture. Look at the layouts. And move forward with construction."
"It is turning around," said Councilman Bill Kling. "All of a sudden, the eyes of the city are on Lowe Mill."
The developer, Invent Huntsville, will also be constructing new homes. The development agreement is for 10, which Wheeler expects to be under construction between this year and next. But there could be more. The developer owns more than 60 properties in the area.
"We will likely be getting started in June of this year with a row housing product, but we are really trying to introduce a range of products for anyone who will be wanting to move to the area whether it'd a two bedroom, or more of an apartment or loft style," she said.
Lowe Mill's Neighbors
Neighbors say they can't wait to see dirt move.
Michelle McMullen, West Huntsville Civic Association and Lowe Mill Historic Neighborhood Association representative, says this rezone is something they've been waiting for.
"The parcel up for rezoning is special, not just because it is the focal point of the neighborhood but because it is the location of the former mill superintendent's house," she said. "We truly believe it will become a gathering spot with ambiance and an historic character that can not be duplicated anywhere else in the city."
She sang the developer's praises, noting the good work they've been doing in East Nashville as a reason for excitement.
Other neighbors heard about the new development and bought property to repair. Rick McNully and his family, through their business McNully Properties, is repairing old homes in the Lowe Mill area and will be offering them for rent.
"We're excited about it," McNully said of the incoming development. "That's the whole purpose behind us investing our money in these homes is what happens in the future."
"We're interested in being a part of improving the neighborhood," he said. "These old homes are amazing. We think this is going to be the place people want to live."
McNully said he is excited to see more homes being built, too.
"We're not concerned about so-called competition," he said. "We want people to come in here and help make it better. We can't do it all by ourselves."