The Auburn Downtown Design Review Committee largely signed off on submitted designs for a private dormitory project planned for the corner of Armstrong Street and Samford Avenue at its meeting on Tuesday.

Behzad Nakhjavan, the local developer's architect and a professor in the School of Architecture at Auburn University, showed the committee updated design renderings and asked the committee to discuss a central concern relayed in Planning Department staff's comments on the project, which The Villager reported on in early November. Nakhjavan read the following excerpt to committee members at the meeting. 

"In this instance, staff is not concerned about the use's compatibility with the community, Instead, staff is concerned that the design of the development will inhibit its ability to blend in with its surroundings," said Planning Department staff comments in meeting materials.

Nakhjavan showed a detailed photo survey of adjacent and surrounding structures and asked the committee to weigh in on whether the building's design "will inhibit its ability to blend in with its surroundings." Nakhjavan contended it fit in well with the context of the surrounding neighborhood, which photos showed was a hodgepodge of varying structures. 

"It comes from other folks who are not architects, and they have sent it to you guys, who are architects, to tell them whether or not this building is harmonious with the neighborhood, was a very strange building in the neighborhood, so they're looking at you to kind of say, 'Yeah, this fits in or no, this is terrible,'" he said.

Committee member and architectural professor David Hinson said he didn't really take exception with any of the design elements.

"I think your analysis of the neighborhood conditions makes a pretty compelling case that there's too much diversity in the context of the (neighborhood), so there isn't a patten there that this project breaks," said Hinson." The pattern is no patten.

"What is different about the building is its scale in proportion to its relationship to the street. The buildings of comparable scale have different relationships to the street than this one does. The buildings that are smaller in scale might have the same frontage position, but because they’re smaller in scale the perception is different."

The project renderings show a three-story, red brick structure that is 30 feet high at the eave, with three notches descending from the roof to balconies. 

The project, which falls under the private dormitory use in its current configuration and is conditional, would replace a home at 355 Armstrong Street on the northeast corner of Armstrong and Samford Avenue. It would include 18 beds on a 0.23-acre lot. The two outside units would consist of five bedrooms, with the two interior units having four. Parking will be located to the rear on the building, including eight spaces in garages. 

The project might not ultimately need conditional use approval after further meetings are held between the owners and city staff, if floor plans were reconfigured and updated to fall under other uses, like town homes, which are permitted by right in Urban Neighborhood–South. 

Symmetry played a large role in the building's design, in part because it sits along Samford Avenue at the terminus of Wrights Mill Road. 

"Whoever did this 70 years ago had enough sense, and knew from the history, that termination of streets are important, and this person managed to convince the owner of two porches just to get that symmetrical component as the termination," said Nakhjavan of the existing house on the property. The planned building's design similarly incorporates symmetry.

"The notion of symmetry must have been really important, and I think it is important. It's one of the things we tried to do," he added.

The committee made a few suggestions about ways to improve the design, which Nakhjavan said would be incorporated.

"It's always good to get a second look at it," he said. 

One suggestion dealt with the treatment of the roof, which is differed in the most recent rendering from the original scheme.

"The pitch of the roof kind of takes the roof out of play," said Hinson. "In earlier schemes, the roof seems to play a more prominent feature, at least in the way its presented in elevation, particularly to that terminus at Wrights Mill.

"In that drawing, you actually were seeing a steeper roof pitch there. The roof comes into play in the way you perceive that." 

Committee member and architect Dan Bennett reinforced Hinson's point and said, "I understand your comment or concern about the scale if you went with a larger, or more of a gable roof rather than a hip roof. But ... the roof kind of disappears, and that's the one element, at least in the majority of the houses, the roof becomes kind of a major element visually on that street, and here you've kind of taken that away. That's what I would urge to think about.

"Roofs become a major element of form and context in that block and that street."

Nakhjavan said the change in treatment of the roof between initial and current renderings was spurred by feedback from the city and comments from the public. 

The new renderings also show a brick wall running along the front of the property as a buffer to the sidewalk, although that could pose a problem because the city currently plans to widen the sidewalks at some point along Samford Avenue, said Assistant City Manager Megan Crouch, who also indicated that the potential impact of the wall on the surrounding health of the trees would need to be considered. All three committee members — Hinson, Bennett and Anna Solomon — voiced their approval of the wall. 

In addition to bringing the roof more into play in the design, other suggestions offered by the committee included adjusting the proportions of the windows and stretching the "balcony elements" across the front of the building in some fashion.

"Like the pattern of houses down the street, it kind of creates ... a kind of buffer between the box of the house and yard and the street," said Hinson. 

The DDRC will look at updated renderings based on its feedback at a meeting tentatively set for 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 3.

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