The Downtown Design Review Committee came away impressed after taking its first crack at reviewing the plans for the Graduate Hotel slated to be built on the current site of Anders Bookstore at the corner of West Magnolia Avenue and Wright Street at its meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
"I think this is nice work," said DDRC member Dan Bennett. "We almost don't see a project this well developed in the first stage."
DDRC member David Hinson also complimented the project, saying "I think there's a lot about this project that the city is going to be very happy with."
Fellow DDRC member Anna Solomon was also pleased with the design.
"Initially, I'm pleased with what we're seeing," she said.
The project will bring a five-story, roughly 140,000 gross square-foot Graduate Hotel to downtown Auburn, with 177 keys, event space and a coffee shop on the ground floor that will be open to the public.
The City Council approved the conditional use for the project in May 2020. Mayor Ron Anders, whose family owns the property, recused himself from deliberations and the vote for the project's conditional use.
"This agenda item concerns a piece of property that my family owns, so out of an abundance of caution I'm completely removing myself from the discussion and the vote on this item," said Anders during the May 2020 meeting. "In full transparency, I want to let you know that I haven't spoken to the council about this item other than to confirm that Mayor Pro Tem (Beth Witten) would run the rest of the meeting for me."
Jillian Agdern, of Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, presented the project's design to the committee on Tuesday over Zoom, saying that it was inspired by the Georgian style.
"There's an ordered hierarchy to the base, which is consistent with the Georgian style, with a distinct bottom, middle and top," she said.
The hotel will feature a drop-off lane and its main entrance along its Magnolia Avenue frontage, and a raised "porch" that wraps around Magnolia to Wright Street. The on-site parking, the vast majority of which is in an underground deck, will be served by valet parking. The streetscape will try to continue and complement the existing streetscape downtown, with brick paving and tree wells.
"Keeping continuity of experience is something that we took into great consideration with our design," said Agdern.
The fifth floor of the building features a food and beverage space and a terrace covered by a pergola and trellis.
Both Bennett and Hinson questioned whether the windows were true divided light or simulated divided light windows. Agdern indicated that they were simulated with muntins, defined as a strip separating panes of glass in a sash, on the exterior of the window.
"We have expressed concern on other downtown projects about simulated divided light windows, in particular, conditions where it's actually a double-glazed window with muntins between the layers of glazing," said Hinson. "That's really not something we'd like to see."
Hinson added that having the muntins on the exterior would satisfy that concern. He also wanted to see a lighter treatment of the cast stone work on top of the building.
"If we're going to try to do traditional, I think our preference is going to be to be very sensitive to the scale of the way this language is being deployed on the project," he said. "And there are a couple cases where it feels like we're kind of stretching the proportions beyond what you would see in Georgian vocabulary. And the piece that I'm least comfortable with is the trellis on the top.
"I'd like to see some refinement of that trellis. It could be that it takes on a little bit of a lighter, less kind of heavy feel to it."
Agdern said they are currently going through the city's design review team process and would explore the DDRC's suggestions, and anticipate seeking a building permit in early spring.