A large mixed-use development to be located at 320 Magnolia Ave. moved forward this week as the Auburn City Council approved the project's only conditional use — a drive-thru for Chick-fil-A.
Chick-fil-A will be redeveloped as part of the project, with a larger kitchen space and a drive-thru that triples the amount of vehicles that can queue in line on the property.
At the current location, 12 vehicles can stack before the line begins to block traffic on Magnolia Avenue, and after redevelopment, 36 cars will fit in the drive-thru lane before spilling out.
Planning Director Forrest Cotten said the design of the drive-thru is one of a more urban format — it will be tucked inside the first floor of a parking deck rather than located just off the road in the middle of an open-air parking lot.
"This is without a question, from my department's perspective, a significant improvement over a scenario that ... has just been a real mess for a number of years," he said. "I remember when the back-up on Magnolia was during traditional meal hours; now the back-up on Magnolia is the entire time Chick-fil-A is open.
"To be able to queue 40 cars on private property is huge; it's absolutely huge."
The City Council approved the use with a 6-3 vote. Councilwoman Connie Fitch Taylor and councilmen Kelley Griswold and Bob Parsons voted in opposition.
With the drive-thru use approved, the project will likely not come before the City Council again as all its other components are permitted by right.
The project will include a parking deck, about 12,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor, a 5,000-square-foot Chick-fil-A and a residential component starting on the second floor.
The residential portion of the parking deck will only be accessible from Genelda Avenue and will be separate from the commercial parking, which patrons will be able to access from Toomer or Thomas streets. An additional right-turn-only exit will be off Magnolia Avenue.
Andy Barfield, vice president of Holder Properties in Atlanta — the company responsible for assembling the land for the project — said the intent is to build a pedestrian-friendly development.
"We're making a point to make this as pedestrian-friendly as possible and also to pull cars off West Magnolia," he said. "We have put tremendous thought into this process ... We think we have solved a major problem out there right now."
The commercial parking lot will contain 160 spaces, according to Brett Basquin of Foresite Group LLC, the company designing the project.
The project's residential component is likely to be purpose-built student housing, which is permitted by right in the University Neighborhood-West District, in which this property resides. The maximum building height allowed is 75 feet, and 255 beds would be allowed per acre, meaning that there could easily be more than 850 beds added to the market as part of the development.
The development will occupy 11 parcels — which were recently approved by the Planning Commission to be consolidated into one lot — or about 3.4 acres, in the block bordered by Genelda Avenue, Thomas Street, Magnolia Avenue and Toomer Street.
The three parcels not included in the land assemblage on that block are the Subway property and two lots owned by Auburn University. Attorney Travis Wisdom spoke on behalf of Subway owner Lewis Cribb during the council meeting with concerns about the drive-thru use, saying that if cars do pile up in the Chick-fil-A drive-thru, they could potentially block Subway's parking lot.
If no other conditional use comes up as a part of the 320 Magnolia project, the next time the city will see anything from the developer is when it submits engineering plans to be reviewed by the Development Review Team (DRT), which is typically a three-week process, said Principal Planner Tyler Caldwell.
"Unless there's some conditional use that gets triggered by the nonresidential stuff, any of the commercial, then their next submission would be straight to DRT," he said. "They've got a lot of engineering to do before then."
Caldwell said that submissions are accepted by the DRT on Wednesdays, and the team has two weeks to review and get comments back to the developer, who then has a week to respond to comments.
"Now a project of this scale, the comments are likely to be significant," Caldwell said. "We may need more time to review it since it's a bigger project."