City workshop outlines updated zoning changes

May 10—City of Huntsville building officials have presented a proposed new zoning ordinance plan to act like a roadmap, guiding how the community develops over time, making sure rules and regulations are organized and work well with everyone who lives here. According to the workshop held Tuesday before the regular city council meeting.

City Building Official Kevin Byal presented the workshop, noting that council approved a Comprehensive Plan update in 2020 with the intention of expanding the zoning districts. He added that in 2022, Council directed staff to pursue updating zoning districts and associated regulations.

City Manager Aron Kulhavy said the city is ready to go with the current version of the proposed zoning districts.

"With this project and getting us to where we are at now, and where we want to be going forward, there is a lot of work and a lot of cost," Kulhavy said. "We can start with whatever we want to on this. Whatever we begin in the process as we go through the hearing, we can cut out pieces and we can make changes to it. If we cut stuff out now before the process even begins and want to add it in later, there's a lot of things that could trigger starting the whole entire process all over again."

Current development districts are divided into four — Management, Neighborhood Conservation, Downtown and Planned Development.

In the proposed 2023 zoning changes, there were 11 zoning districts. That effort failed to pass City Council Tuesday, Sept. 5, with a vote of 5-3, with then-Mayor Andy Brauninger, current Mayor Russell Humphrey, and current Mayor Pro Tem Vicki McKenzie voting for the change.

The new proposal includes consolidated districts from 11 to eight, with three residential, three commercial, and two special districts. The Residential Districts are comprised of Medium Density Residential — single-family residential uses as typical in-city densities and size; High Density Residential — multi-family residential/apartments; and Simple Living Residential — for small lot design in a variety of structure types and arrangements including manufactured homes, recreation vehicle parks, tiny homes and cottage courts.

For the commercial and mixed districts, the city is proposing Industrial, Mixed Use and Downtown. Special Districts will include Public and Institutional which includes no zoning regulatory authorities; and Planned Developments that require Council approval.

The overlay districts, a special set of requirements on top of regular base zoning rules for specific areas, will add a layer of guidelines that focus on protecting the character of given areas and limiting uses that could negatively impact surrounding elements.

The four proposed overlays are Residential Protection Overlay, I-45 Overlay, Veterans Memorial Overlay and Airport Overlay.

Over 6,500 notices went out and we only had 20 speak at the meetings, Byal said.

"This isn't a land grab," Byal said. "It doesn't take away or stop use of a property. This effort only says where (developers) can build."

Byal said the 6,500 property owners in Huntsville should receive two notices of a hearing, one for Planning Commission and one for City Council.

"We are growing and I like that line 'Let's grow with certainty and predictability'," Byal said.

Ward 1 Councilmember Tore Fossum questioned about the zoning and overlays prohibiting his income as a homeowner.

"If you are in that neighborhood protection overlay, then you are correct, it would prohibit you from renting out a room," Byal said. "When that Neighborhood Protection Overlay was created, those homeowners didn't want students or student housing in their neighborhood."

Fossum explained that the loss of value is in the possible income, not in the tax value.

Byal explained that current zoning without the protection overlay is allowed to rent rooms.

Even with the new ordinance, that overlay area will not affect those rules for preexisting properties.

"Zoning is bad and kills economic activity," Byal said. "Developers are looking for these rules."

Ward 2 Councilmember Casey Cox said that property owners still have the right to file plans and proposals to get a zoning change.

Byal confirmed that was correct. There are steps in place for changes to zoning in place from filing plans, to going before Planning Commission for recommendation, and then to Council for approval, with legal procedures to follow.

"We met with 40 different property owners and listened to their requests and were able to make the reasonable changes that made sense," Byal said.

The 40-minute workshop wrapped up with Byal repeating that anything removed at this point and needed to be added back into the proposed changes, then the entire process would have to start over.

The next step in the process of beginning the zoning changes is for Council to authorize staff to begin.

There was no indication of a time frame in the workshop.

Contact Brenda Poe at