Rebuilding West Huntsville’s Mill Villages

single-meta-cal November 27, 2016

Pictured above:  An Invent Communities home in Nashville

Redevelopment Seeks to Preserve and Respect West Huntsville’s Rich History and Diversity

A rich part of Huntsville’s history will continue to be an essential part of its future, thanks to a new West Huntsville neighborhood development and partnership with a community company that “is a combination of vision and concrete,” according to Bill Kling, Huntsville City Councilman for District 4.

Invent Communities, based in Nashville, has entered into an agreement with the City of Huntsville to revitalize the Lowe Mill area. The company, which will do business here as Invent Huntsville, will design and build up to 60 homes in the neighborhood, beginning in March 2017 on property directly across from the west side of Lowe Mill. It will be the first company to utilize Huntsville’s new C6 zoning code to promote more urban development, where residential and business may be more blended.

What the company will do is “on our dream-come-true list,” said Michelle McMullen, president of the West Huntsville Civic Association and Historic Lowe Mill Village.

“It’s a great investment in the city,” said Kling, whose district includes the Lowe Mill area. “Instead of having buildings that are eyesores, we have sections of the city that are being revitalized. This is another step in the right direction.”

Invent Communities has dramatically re energized a number of Nashville neighborhoods, particularly on the east side where time had stolen the luster of some prominent old communities.

A large segment of the population are talking more about engagement time and less windshield time. They want to be close to work, close to great cultural activities, restaurants, general levels of engagement and their home-life.”

The company primarily builds unique single-family homes that in turn lead to more multi-use development and drawing more businesses into the mix, enhancing the quality of life in those areas for current residents and bringing in new ones.

“We believe not only will it initially be great for that neighborhood but also can serve as a catalyst for continuing private investment,” said City Administrator John Hamilton.

The homes are not cookie-cutter. They’re snowflakes, none identical, and “the quality of their craftsmanship is superb,” McMullen said. “They take pains to put something in place that is complementary to the neighborhood and its character.”

Jamie Pfeffer, the founder of Invent Communities, and Justin Hicks, the head of construction, have already spent considerable time in Huntsville, dating back almost two years. They have a shared vision with McMullen, who was one of the first Huntsvillians to meet with them and who has visited their Nashville sites.

“We can revive a neighborhood that was past the point of no return,” McMullen said. “These developers came in and saw the potential and realized it was do-able and they wanted to do it. They know they’re going to make a difference not just for this neighborhood but create a ripple effect bigger than this neighborhood.”

As one of several mill villages in the city, “This is part of Huntsville’s heritage,” McMullen said. “Without these mill villages, Huntsville wouldn’t exist. It was an important stage of the development of our city. We want this new West Huntsville neighborhood project to basically achieve the potential it has, and we know we’re going to get there now.”

A number of things have drawn Pfeffer and Co. to Lowe Mill. There is the “symbiotic relationship” that quickly developed with Huntsville leaders. There is the proximity of good schools. There is what he called “the fundamental core DNA of the neighborhood, which is classic and should be cherished.”

Huntsville has, Pfeffer believes, a large segment of the population who “are talking more about engagement time and less windshield time. They want to be close to work, close to great cultural activities, restaurants, general levels of engagement and their home-life. The proximity to those things makes it really compelling.”

Pfeffer also noted the “dynamic changing neighborhood” being created by what he called the “triangle” formed by Lowe Mill, the Huntsville West business incubator and Campus 805.

And there is simply his love for old mill areas “and the sense of community that is timeless.”

Site of new development at Lowe Mill

Beyond building new single family homes, Invent Huntsville purchased 2.5 acres of land across from Lowe Mill for a two-three story mixed-use development that will include commercial and residential space for lease.

The hub of the development is 171,000-square foot Lowe Mill itself, purchased in 2001 by Jim Hudson to be a dedicated arts facility.

“What Jim Hudson is doing to Lowe Mill is phenomenal,” McMullen said. “We always wanted to create a historic and tourist destination site. That was our dream. We have carefully laid the groundwork, vigorously protecting the area to get it to this point, the attract a developer who is like minded. I truly believe this will transform the neighborhood.”

“They have been steadfast in their support for the betterment of that neighborhood,” Pfeffer said of McMullen and her associates. “Their undying commitment to the neighborhood is clear, and we just hope to be a small part of that vision they’ve had for a long time.”