District 1 outlook: Transformative redevelopment opportunity awaits for Johnson High

single-meta-cal January 29, 2018

City Blog is taking a look at what’s in store in 2018 in each of the City of Huntsville’s five districts, through the eyes of their council representatives. Today: Devyn Keith, District 1.

View City Council district boundary lines via this map.

You know the old Hollywood cliché: “Lights, camera, action.”

A long way from the idyllic world of Tinseltown, it could describe District 1 in the City of Huntsville.

Lights … repaired and replaced on some foreboding streets.

Cameras … to monitor activity and serve as a crime deterrent.

Action … from City Councilman Devyn Keith, barely having completed his first year on the job, to try to transform a community in which he is fully immersing himself.

“If I can help decrease crime, get some private development and business developments going and slowly but surely change the social narrative of North Huntsville, I’ll have done my job,” he said.

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Keith, following his campaign promise, is living for a year in four different neighborhoods in his district. He spent last year in Terry Heights, an area undergoing a transformation.

Sometimes the problems are simple. Nobody bothered to report broken streetlights until a neighbor mentioned two lights to Keith. He called Huntsville Utilities – which obviously can’t cruise every neighborhood in town looking for broken or burned out lights – to replace the two. Once workers arrived, they discovered 18 lights that needed to be replaced.

Pro Tip: Every citizen can use Huntsville Connect, the City’s service request platform to report service requests (broken streetlights, graffiti, potholes, dead animals, etc.). Here’s how.

Cameras installed to deter crime

Sometimes the problems are more complex. Hence the cameras that are being installed this year in Terry Heights and other areas to monitor and deter criminal activity.

“What can we do to decrease crime which, in turn, increases property value in a neighborhood,” said Keith, who has now moved to the Mount Vernon area. “There will never be a perfect neighborhood. But there are good people in these neighborhoods who don’t want crime.”

Keith continues to build on his relationships with the Huntsville Police Department and has traveled to Mobile with Chief Mark McMurray to learn about the best practices employed there.

This year will be a time of “nurturing” – Keith’s word – for seeds planted in 2017 in economic development in District 1.

Opportunity at Johnson

The new incarnation of the old J.O. Johnson High School property will be a significant milestone for 2018.

Keith said the City is taking in bids from developers and he has been a part of numerous meetings. There will soon be an announcement about the Johnson gymnasium, which will remain a part of whatever development emerges around it.

The plan is for a mixed-use development with housing and retail on the 46-acre property. It will not be low-income or public housing; instead, it will be built with an eye on raising property values in the immediate area.

“We will do this the right way,” Keith said, noting that it will be a matter of years, not months, for everything to come to fruition, as it has in other planned development. “Providence didn’t happen in 10 months. It’s been 10, 12 years to grow to where it is.

“If it’s done the right way, it’s a win-win for everybody,” he said.

Keith often talks about the learning experience of his first year, admitting he has learned from mistakes.

“In a very simple recap, 2017 was the best training wheels as there could be,” he said. “This year the wheels are coming off. But I’m not ready for a mountain bike yet.”