Huntsville’s Urban Planner Charged with Designing City’s Comprehensive Master Plan

Leadership Perspectives
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle says the administration is about to do something it hasn't done before -- compile a comprehensive master plan for the city.

The person who will lead that effort is Dennis Madsen, Huntsville's Urban and Long Range Planner.  Madsen joined us November 15 for Leadership Perspectives, WHNT News 19's weekly in-depth interview segment.

Madsen talks about what he does and what it will mean to everyone who lives in the Rocket City.

First, why does Huntsville need an urban planner?

"We're growing, and we're growing very quickly," said Madsen.  "An urban planner is important, to make sure your infrastructure is able to accommodate that new growth."

Madsen talked about a variety of topics, including the city's zoning ordinances.  He said Huntsville hasn't re-examined its zoning laws in several decades as neighborhoods have grown.  He said that's the reason Walmart was able to stake its claim on property along Memorial Parkway, just south of Drake Avenue.  Nearby residents aren't happy about the store locating in the current Mason Plaza, but the current zoning laws are the reason it's happened with very little red tape, Madsen said.

On a different note, Madsen also says social media has helped improve transparency in government.  People have an easier way to contact city leaders and hold them accountable.

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Madsen comes from Atlanta, a huge city with huge traffic headaches.  We asked him what makes Huntsville stand out.

He said our city is great, with an intelligent workforce, and more so, an engaged workforce.  He said he's been asked to sum up Huntsville.

"I'd have to say it's the city that gives," said Madsen.  "Everything is volunteer-based.  That is really a strength."

Madsen acknowledges a few roads could have been done a little differently, but "there weren't a lot of bad decisions made," he said of Huntsville's past planning.

He said traffic is much better here, but there is room for improvement.  Madsen said it's important to look at where growth will happen in Huntsville and target improvement for roads in those areas.

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What's next for Huntsville, as we continue to look ahead?  Madsen said it's important to involve citizens in planning for future growth.  The concept is called 'Community-Based Planning.'

"You'll never get 100 percent consensus, but if you give people the opportunity to be heard, and engage in a dialogue, at least you have some type of unified direction," said Madsen.

Next summer, look for community forums around town on targeted issues, he said.  These may include Huntsville's empty strip malls, or ideas for waterfront development at Ditto Landing.

"We want to accommodate growth's that coming, change things the public wants to see change, and realize the vision of what Huntsville wants to see addressed," said Madsen.

He said he'd like to see the city finish the Greenway network, and shift development along the Parkway to something more 'citizen-friendly.'