Student housing on Glenn Avenue

The Auburn City Council approved an extension of a moratorium on new student housing at its meeting on Tuesday, the second time the council has authorized an extension during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The current 120-day extension will run through Dec. 23 unless the council terminates the moratorium beforehand. 

The moratorium, which prohibits the construction of new private dormitories and academic detached dwelling units in the city, was initially issued in February to give the Planning Department and Planning Commission time to craft new regulations and the public time to comment on the proposals.  

Auburn Mayor Ron Anders pushed for a moratorium last December after the city conducted an inventory that showed Auburn has roughly 36,000 beds, with some under construction, that qualify as student-housing.  Private dormitories are currently permitted by right in Urban Neighborhoods West and East and conditional in UN-South. 

Planning Director Forrest Cotten previewed some of the proposed changes to regulations for the Planning Commission at a work session last week. 

Those recommendations include reducing the allowable bed density in UN-West from 255 beds to 170 beds an acre; enhancing development and design standards for new construction; and prohibiting ADDUs in the Neighborhood Redevelopment and Medium Density Residential districts. 

The Planning Commission will consider the first and last recommendations at its meeting in September. The Downtown Design Review Committee is still crafting potential changes to development and design standards. 

"This is obviously going to have a primary impact on purpose-built products simply because of the high bed density that those units garner because of their configurations," said Cotten at last Thursday's work session. "You can be rest assured that if you were to proceed with this density reduction, you're likely going to see I think less development because it is no longer economically viable and profitable."

Cotten added changing the bed density allowance is not being made to discourage redevelopment in the area. 

"Whether it's multi-family product, I still think there's a notion to still incentivizing redevelopment in the Urban Neighborhood–West because there is so much housing product over there that's outlived it's useful life," he said. "I think we would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we didn't continue to incentivize redevelopment activity in some form or fashion."

Planning commissioners generally approved of reducing the allowable bed density, but Commissioner Warren McCord said to expect "some charges for down-zoning," from residents opposed to the measure.

"I personally think it's important for the health benefit of the community," he said. 

Commissioners were less supportive of prohibiting ADDUs in the NRD and MDRD zoning districts where the use is currently conditional. 

"I don't know that prohibiting a housing type that we just created will solve the problem we're trying to solve," said Commissioner Jana Jager, who also asked Cotten whether staff could look at reducing the allowable lot size and encouraging more housing types to come into the NRD, which has seen multiple ADDUs built recently in the traditionally African-American community west of North College Street near Canton Avenue. 

While multiple commissioners expressed the desire for ADDUs to remain conditional, the proposal to prohibit that housing type will still come before the Commission at its meeting in September.

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