Kenneth Groves, led shift to SmartCode in Montgomery

New Urban News, October-November 2010

Kenneth Groves, whose nine years as director of planning and development in Montgomery, Alabama, resulted in an overhaul of the city’s zoning and more urbane development downtown, died Sept. 28 after a brief struggle with cancer.

Groves, 64, had what he described as “the epiphany” a few years ago, a realization that the flaws of conventional development stem at least partly from tools such as separate-use zoning — tools that most planners, including himself, had long relied upon to decide what was built where.

Influenced by local proponents of New Urbanism, including Nathan Norris of PlaceMakers and Chad Emerson of Faulkner University’s Jones School of Law, Groves set about introducing the SmartCode in Alabama’s capital. The code was offered as an optional overlay throughout the 200,000 city and was made mandatory downtown.

He brought in Dover, Kohl & Partners from Coral Gables, Florida, to produce a plan for the downtown. As the soft-spoken Groves related in a clip available on YouTube, the fee paid to Dover, Kohl caused local newspapers to refer to it initially as “the $300,000 plan,” but in short order the plan began producing results.

An old department store was converted into loft apartments. The suburban-style headquarters of the Alabama Association of Realtors was replaced with a new building with a more urban character. An area containing largely vacant warehouses started to take on a new identity as “The Alley,” with restaurants and retail on the ground floor and mostly apartments above.

He had Rick Hall and DeWayne Carver of Hall Planning and Engineering redesign a downtown intersection to create an appealing vista from the Capitol and to serve pedestrians as well as motorists. In a memorial service, Emerson said Groves was known for his amazing stories “about the vibrant downtown that Montgomery once had.” Thanks to his patient efforts, the city now seems to be on an upward path.