As Dennis Madsen, Huntsville’s Manager of Long-Range Planning put it, “A decade ago we had already started doing master-planning for that area in the eventuality that something would happen.”
That “area” is a 1,252-acre megasite in a Huntsville-annexed part of Limestone County, and something is indeed going to happen there. Toyota and Mazda announced today they will build a manufacturing facility on the property, leading to some 4,000 new jobs for the area.
We said we would be looking for the right project and the right partners to come in there. Toyota and Mazda fit that description.”
“We’re confident, because of the planning that’s already taken place, that Huntsville will be able to manage the growth and the challenges that come with this,” said Michelle Jordan, the City of Huntsville’s Planning Director.
Huntsville Mega Site was important step
In 2011, having already recognized the potential for industrial growth west of the city, Huntsville adopted the land-use and zoning recommendations from a consulting project completed by Sasaki Associates. That led to the creation of the Huntsville Mega Site, which by developmental definition means a property that is “shovel ready” for large-scale manufacturing projects.
“When we were approved for the site 2 ½ years ago, we said we would be looking for the right project and the right partners to come in there,” said Shane Davis, Director for Urban Development. “Toyota and Mazda fit that description.”
“The plan is really about recognizing we had a large blank slate and a lot of industrial and employment growth was going on out there,” Madsen said. “And then recognizing that when we get employment on the ground, housing and retail rush to be near it. Our job is to answer the question, “How do we make sure to design a plan where housing is close to employment, but not too close, and they are located in areas that make sense?”
The City of Huntsville has a BIG Picture master plan in place, and while much of the attention has been directed toward downtown redevelopment, Madsen said the growth on the west side in Limestone County dovetails neatly with the plan.
A key facet of the project was the widening of Greenbrier Parkway off I-565. It paid dividends in bringing the Polaris plant to Huntsville, a project that was announced three years ago yesterday and which opened in November 2016.
That accommodates not only the industrial traffic but also to serve the surrounding communities and any other developments, residential and industrial, that are likely to follow a major manufacturing announcement.
“We’re not trying to respond, to be reactive, but instead we try to anticipate what the future concerns are, so we can accommodate proactively and do so in a cost-effective manner,” Madsen said.
Planning is a day-to-day process
While “long range” and “master plan” seem to indicate a distant vision, it’s actually a day-to-day process, as City Administrator John Hamilton reminded.
“We have had a 10-year capital plan since 1990 that is updated every single year,” Hamilton said. “It’s focused on looking way down the road to ensure we have the resources in place so every single year we’re growing infrastructure with an eye to where the city is going.
“We have so far been able to stay ahead of demand. But it’s something we have to focus on every single day, year in and year out. If you ever take your eye off that requirement (for infrastructure), you will fall behind,” Hamilton continued.
“It’s been very clear that the administration wants to keep the infrastructure up to pace,” Madsen said.
Typically in road projects, Hamilton said that “we don’t build to meet that day’s demand. We want to accommodate the demands of the coming years.”
The services required aren’t limited to roads, though that’s obviously the major capital expense. There are utilities and sewers to consider, fiber internet connectivity, the extension of services by police, fire and public works and a potential need for more equipment. It even includes recreational facilities and greenways.
“One thing that can be forgotten when you have these new areas is making sure there are quality of life aspects,” Madsen said. “Our plan has some areas that are designated for greenways and parks. You have to have those amenities.”
So, the new neighbors at the megasite won’t merely find wide-open spaces on which they can sprawl. They’ll find other benefits that have been on the drawing board for a decade, awaiting this eventuality.