Members of Auburn’s Downtown Design Review Panel were unimpressed with the initial plan for a mixed-use development at 129 N. College St.
The plan centers on a seven-story building that includes a 19,000 square foot retail store on the ground floor facing North College Street, as well as parking areas and apartments on the upper floors.
“This is probably the largest and most important site under development in Auburn in the last 20 years,” committee member David Hinson said during a meeting with the project’s development team. last week. “If it’s not done with the level of care and design articulation the community expects, we’ll never hear the end of it.”
“It’s really important that we get your A-Game over that facade and I just don’t think we have it here.”
The May 12 meeting was the first time DDRC members met with the development team to review the project, which is being developed by Athens, Georgia-based JNS Realty. Nelson Worldwide, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the architect.
The property is owned by 129 North College Fund LLC. It runs from North College Street to Wright Street and is located next to the municipal parking lot at 135 N. College St.
DDRC members expressed concern about a few aspects of the project, one being a proposed walkway that would pass between the development and the parking deck. The walkway would serve as a cross-road easement between the properties and connect North College and Wright streets.
Hinson said the height of the buildings and the width of the walkway could make pedestrians nervous. The space between the two buildings would be between 9 to 12 feet wide.
“We have mid-block lanes in downtown Auburn, but there are two- to three-story buildings on either side,” Hinson said. “It’s going to be a niche. It will be a cave in terms of the relationship between width and height.
“I have to admit that I have some concerns about this in terms of how big it is going to be. It’s a very narrow gap between two very tall buildings.
Committee member Dan Bennett agrees.
“When there are seven floors, it could be a very uncomfortable situation,” Bennett said.
Nelson’s architect, John Lewis, suggested the possibility of adding something overhead, such as a trellis, to help obscure the aerial view of the buildings and give pedestrians the impression of walking in a ” much lower space.
The side of the building facing Wright Street is where the developers plan to put the main entrance, the rental office and some two-level loft-type apartments.
On the side of the building between the development and the parking lot, there would be another entrance for residents as well as a lounge and an elevator and stair hallway.
“We have a front door at the rental office. It also allows for a residential backdoor, if you will, that residents can use for convenience,” Lewis said. “It helps activate the lane.”
The walkway would be fully lit. The developers would work with city officials to determine where the lights would be placed.
“Some of these lights will be on our property, some may be on city property, some may be hung on our building or hung on the city bridge,” Lewis said. “All of that still needs to be ironed out, but that’s the long-term plan, that connection.”
Hinson said developers and city officials need to determine what would be expected from both sides regarding the walkway before moving forward.
Hinson also suggested giving the residential gateway entrance a bigger role, as people living in the development will want to feel like they’re living on North College Street.
“For this lane to be successful, it needs to be activated as much as possible from both sides,” Hinson said.
DDRC members also had trouble with the side of the building facing North College Street.
Hinson said the proposed height of the building facing North College Street – seven stories – is too tall and the design of the commercial facade is “completely unacceptable”.
“It’s designed for something to behold in a 15-acre parking lot, not something to behold on a sidewalk,” Hinson said of the retail facade.
Lewis said further development on the North College Street side of the building is coming.
“As we develop the project, we will likely look at removing the first two or more floors to create step and movement away from College Street,” Lewis said.
John Stamm, president of JNS Realty, said that in terms of elevation, Wright Street is about 10 feet lower than North College Street, and the developers are trying to maintain some height throughout the building.
“The vertical component is still, I wouldn’t say in a full flow state, but obviously we’re still working on that,” Stamm said.
Brantley Basinger of Mallory & Evans Development Ventures LLC, the project’s multi-family partner, said he agreed with the majority of DDRC members’ concerns.
“It’s a primo property and you have to set the standard for what comes in the future,” he said.
City Council approved the retail store in October. A conditional use was necessary for the store.
The number of apartments presented in the conditional use was 90 one-bedroom and loft-type apartments and 22 two-bedroom apartments. These numbers may vary as the design progresses.
Stamm would not disclose which retailer might be interested in occupying the space.
“We’re in negotiations with a national chain store that you can probably glean, but we’re unable to disclose who the tenant is at this point,” Stamm said.