Members of Auburn’s Downtown Design Review Committee were unimpressed by 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 level facing North College Street, and parking areas and apartments on the floors above it.
“This is probably the most significant, prominent site in 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 this is not done with the level of design attention and articulation that the community expects, we’ll all never hear the end of it.
“It’s really important that we get your A-Game relative to this 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, Ga.-based JNS Realty. Minneapolis, Minn.-based Nelson Worldwide is the architect.
The property is owned by 129 North College Fund LLC. It spans from North College Street to Wright Street, and is located next to the municipal parking deck at 135 N. College St.
DDRC members expressed concern with a few aspects of the project, one being a proposed walkway that would run between the development and parking deck. The walkway would act as a cross-easement between the properties and connect North College and Wright streets.
Hinson said the height of the buildings and width of the walkway might make pedestrians nervous. The space between the two buildings would be between 9 to 12 feet wide.
“We have mid-block alleys in downtown Auburn, but they have two-three story buildings on either side of them,” Hinson said. “This is going to be a slot. It’s going to be a cavern in terms of the relationship of width to height.
“I got to admit I do have some concerns about that relative to what the scale of that is going to feel like. It’s a very narrow slot between two very tall buildings.”
Committee member Dan Bennett agreed.
“When there’s seven stories, it could be a very uncomfortable situation,” Bennett said.
Nelson architect John Lewis suggested the possibility of adding something overhead, such as a trellis, to help obscure the overhead view of the buildings and make pedestrians feel as though they’re walking in a “much lower space.”
The side of the building facing Wright Street is where developers are considering putting the main entrance, leasing office and a few two-level loft-type apartments.
On the side of the building between the development and parking deck would be another entrance for residents as well as a lounge area and an elevator and stair corridor.
“We have a front door at the leasing office. This also allows a residential backdoor, if you will, for residents to use for convenience,” Lewis said. “It helps to activate the alleyway.”
The walkway would be fully lighted. Developers would work with city officials to determine where the lights would be placed.
“Some of that lighting will be on our property, some may be on the city’s property, some of that may be hung on our building or hung on the city’s deck,” Lewis said. “That all has to be worked out still, 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 in regards to the walkway before moving forward.
Hinson also suggested giving the residential entrance off the walkway a more prominent role because people living in the development will want to feel like they’re living on North College Street.
“For that alleyway to be successful, it needs to be activated as much as possible on both sides,” Hinson said.
DDRC members also had issues 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 retail facade is “completely unacceptable.”
“It’s designed for something to be seen across a 15-acre parking lot, not something to be seen on a sidewalk,” Hinson said of the retail facade.
Lewis said further development of the North College Street side of the building is forthcoming.
“As we further develop the project, we’re likely to investigate pulling back off the first two stories or more to create some stepping and movement away from College Street,” Lewis said.
John Stamm, President of JNS Realty said in terms of elevation, Wright Street is about 10 feet lower than North College Street, and developers are trying to maintain a certain height throughout the building.
“The vertical component is still, I wouldn’t say in a complete state of flux, 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 piece of property and you do need to set the standard for what comes in the future,” he said.
City Council approved the retail store in October. A conditional use was needed for the store.
The number of apartments presented in the conditional use were 90 one-bedroom and loft-type apartments, and 22 two-bedroom apartments. Those numbers could vary as the design progresses.
Stamm would not disclose what retailer might be interested in occupying the space.
“We are in negotiations with a national retail chain that you can probably glean, but we’re not in any position to disclose who the tenant is at this point,” Stamm said.