Investment and good design.
How C6 zoning could reshape Huntsville neighborhoods

single-meta-cal January 18, 2017

City planners are proud of their newest urban development tool and are preparing to give it a trial run.

It’s the new Commercial 6 (C6) zoning code, the first in the City’s suite of zoning ordinances to include development guidelines and standards for walkability, building size and architecture.

Invent Communities of Nashville applauds the concept and is asking the Planning Commission to rezone a 2.5 acre parcel of land in the Lowe Mill district on Seminole Drive from Residential Office 2 and Residence 1-C to C6 t0 accommodate a new mixed-use project with offices, retail, restaurants and residential.

“This will be a good test case,” said Jim McGuffey, Manager of Planning Services. “It’s absolutely a great opportunity for the staff and public to see what this ordinance can do for a neighborhood.”


McGuffey’s planning team designed C6 to encourage redevelopment projects in existing neighborhoods while paying homage to community aesthetics. In other words, new development should be compatible with the old to create and sustain a harmonious transition between existing and new structures.

“We want to see reinvestment, and citizens want to make their neighborhoods better, more walkable, socially viable, with easy access to uses they need every day,” said McGuffey. “C6 helps deliver these goals.”

Among the C6 features:

  • Multi-story, mixed-use buildings, instead of a single tenant, single story free-standing structure
  • Height and density restrictions to ensure new buildings are in scale with the adjoining neighborhood
  • Buildings sited near the street with parking in rear and on street
  • Street level commercial spaces configured as individual units, in order to stimulate visual interest, establish a predictable rhythm for pedestrians, and encourage the introduction of small retail and service businesses
  • Parking requirements encourage shared parking and reduce surface parking. Requirements based upon peak hours – actual use of the site during business operating hours and people’s habits (shopping, dining or at home)
  • Design guidelines ensure buildings are in character with abutting structures; encourage animated streetscape with street level walls of brick and stone; require landscaping and street trees
  • Midnight curfew for businesses
  • Establishments that serve alcohol must have 50 percent or more of sales in food; no live music after 11 p.m.
  • Signage requirements

“This is definitely newer thinking in terms of zoning ordinances,” said McGuffey. “We’ve had lot of input from The BIG Picture planning process, citizens and developers alike who informed the criteria for C6.  This is the result of their vision.”


Most municipal zoning ordinances originated in the 60s during a time when conventional zoning focused on segregated land uses. Specific zones were created for different types of commercial, residential, and industrial uses. While the separation of uses is still viable, the codes did not allow for blending applications or taking a more pragmatic look at parking.

“I like the density of C6,” said Les Tillery, local architect and chair of the Planning Commission’s Zoning Sub-Committee. “I think C6 will change the dynamic of a neighborhood from having cars parked in front of building, like you see at a strip mall, to one where you have activity right up on the street. It takes us back to a village feel and a time when you had a tight knit community.”

C6 zoning can be used anywhere in the City where it meets appropriate standards and conditions. Planners say they have been fielding requests from other landowners and developers interested in its possibilities. They also believe this is just the beginning of additional zoning updates that make good design and development easier to do.

“We find ways to create zoning that will be a catalyst for development and to put the pieces in place so that the development we are looking for can happen,” said Tillery.