Design Review of 320 West Magnolia

Members of the Downtown Design Review Committee discuss the design of 320 West Magnolia

The Auburn Downtown Design Review Committee took in site plans and renderings for the 320 West Magnolia student-housing project for the second time on Tuesday afternoon, and made a number of suggestions pertaining to design and streetscapes. 

Demolition for the project, which will add 719 beds to nearly a whole block bookended by Toomer and Thomas streets between Magnolia and Genelda avenues, began earlier this month. Demolition will continue in September as the structures housing Domino's and Chick-Fil-A are razed. Chick-Fil-A will close for the duration of construction and reopen on the ground floor of the new structure, which will feature an internal drive-thru that empties out onto Magnolia Avenue. Domino's will not be a tenant in the new project, said developer Andy Barfield, vice president of Holder Properties, who added that another restaurant concept would be brought in.

At Tuesday's meeting, Barfield and Jeff Smith, vice president of architectural firm Niles Bolton Associates, addressed key points brought up by the Downtown Design Review Committee during its first meeting reviewing the project in July. 

One item included more information on the stone material that would be used above the storefronts on the retail arcade fronting Magnolia Avenue. 

Smith explained that the material is a 3/4-inch stone that is then set on a steel suspension system where the stone sections hang from clips. 

"It’s a very high-quality stone finish with a very consistent stone texture and color," said Smith. "They’ll vary in size. I guess the most important thing is … they’re not small pieces, number one. They actually aren’t random. They kind of perhaps give the slight appearance of being random but they’re really not. They’re all connected to each other."

Smith also addressed the building's cornices, another issue the committee asked be addressed at its first meeting. He presented multiple "vertical expressions" for the cornices, including using either a flared cornice or a straight vertical cornice piece. 

DDRC member Dan Bennett preferred the latter option, saying it was better and that the flared cornice option looked "like a stupid hat."

Among the other issues discussed was the treatment of the sidewalk in front of the retail arcade fronting Magnolia Avenue. Current plans include a 10-foot sidewalk between Toomer and Thomas streets that is buffered by sections of grass from Magnolia Avenue. DDRC member David Hinson, who did not attend the first meeting, stated his strong preference for an urban treatment of the sidewalk without suburban landscaping, a preference shared by Bennett but opposed by DDRC member Anna Solomon. It was noted that the suburban landscaping fit in with the current streetscape along other parts of Magnolia Avenue.

"Magnolia over a 20-year span is going to become more of an urban street than it is now, and building this project to coordinate with what it is now is the wrong direction," said Hinson, who later added that he would love to see more life on the sidewalk like in cities. 

Solomon said she does "appreciate having some of the green there."

"From a student point of view, I feel like this seems a little more suburban or having some residential feel and not just an urban feel to it," she said. 

Another big issue discussed was the signage planned for the retail arcade and how it could affect the entire feel of the building. 

"As a way to give the arcade a fighting chance against the signage, to potentially create just a subtle shift of plane between the face of the column and the face of  the band ... just some sense so that the columns read a little more strongly because I think the signage once it goes on there (I'm concerned) is going overpower that arcade," said Hinson.

Both Barfield and Smith said a signage package was being developed and that how they treat signage is a critical concern for them as well.

The City Council will vote on a development agreement for 320 West Magnolia on Sept. 3. The agreement was initially tabled by the council, which said it would like to see a streetview of the development and the developer finish the DDRC review process.

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