At its regular meeting on Tuesday, the Auburn City Council approved text amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance for Downtown Development and Design Standards. 

Upon its formation, the Downtown Design Review Committee was tasked with reviewing and updating the design standards for the Urban Core. The DDRC began working on draft regulations in January 2020 and held multiple work sessions, including three joint sessions with the Planning Commission, in the year since. The DDRC and city staff also met extensively with stakeholders in the development community for their input on potential changes. The Planning Commission signed off on the changes to the zoning ordinance during its April meeting on a 7-1 vote. 

“I believe some of these downtown design review recommendations are going to provide us better projects downtown,” said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders. “They’re going to look better; they’re going to fit better with the street; they’re going to have better entrances. I believe they’ll be better looking buildings.

“The reality is we’ve got three or four projects (downtown) that we ‘re all going to have to live with, but I think the holistic part of what they’ve done is going to benefit our community for generations to come,” added Anders about the work of the DDRC and Planning Commission. 

The Council was largely supportive of all the changes, except one. Councilman Kelley Griswold objected to an increase in allowable parapet or cornice height from 4 feet to 6 feet. A parapet generally acts as a screen for mechanical equipment on the roof of a structure. 

In terms of the changes to the design standards, the increase was meant to provide developers with more flexibility, greater variation and vertical articulation on the top of the roofline and to enhance the architecture aesthetic. The proposed changes do not change the allowable structure height of 75 feet downtown. 

“The height increase in the parapet has everything to do with architecture, which is why we’re requiring a better variation of rooflines as part of this, and it was giving people some extra height to do so,” said City Manager Megan McGowen Crouch. 

Griswold proposed an amendment to the proposed resolution that would have kept the allowable parapet height above the roof at four feet. 

“As we all know, building height is an emotional topic downtown,” he said when introducing the amendment. “It seems like we’re just continuing to inch forward, inch forward, inch forward. 

“If you’re looking at it from the street, you’re not going to see something on top of a roof with a six-foot parapet that you wouldn’t see with a four-foot parapet, so I don’t really see much difference there. And so it’s an objection to overall height creep, if you will, throughout the downtown sector.”

After a somewhat lengthy discussion that veered into the general topic of building height, the amendment failed by a 5-3 vote, with Councilmen Griswold, Bob Parson and Councilwoman Connie Fitch Taylor voting in favor and Mayor Pro Team absent from Tuesday meeting. 

The Council then unanimously approved the text amendments, which revise a number of standards for building mass, fenestration/glazing and building entrances among others. 

The revised standards also move the requirement for red brick downtown while expanding the list of permissible building materials.

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