The Whatley

A rendering of The Whatley building being built in downtown Auburn that was previously reviewed by the Downtown Design Review Committee. DDRC members want more street-view renderings like this included with future presentations by developers

The Auburn Downtown Design Review Committee got its first crack at examining the city of Auburn's development and design standards for the Urban Core and College Edge Overlay districts at its meeting on Tuesday.

The City Council tasked the DDRC when it was formed with reviewing the city's development and design standards downtown, in addition to its normal responsibility of reviewing design plans for proposed new developments in the Urban Core.

DDRC members Dan Bennett, David Hinson and Anna Solomon heard a presentation on the formation and history of the city's Urban Core Design Guidelines from Planning Director Forrest Cotten and Assistant City Manager Megan Crouch, who provided an overview of the changes implemented in 2007 that came out of the Urban Core Task Force, which was headed by former Mayor Jan Dempsey, as well as adjustments to the code that followed in 2009 and during the Downtown Master Plan implementation in 2016. 

The city's design guidelines for the Urban Core have often been criticized for being too restrictive and not offering enough flexibility for developers.

"We probably need to open ourselves up to give the people more options than what they currently have now," said Cotten. 

The DDRC identified the percentage of glazing, ground-floor height, balconies and streetscapes as issues that need further review, as well as possibly looking at parking and permitted building facade length, among other issues discussed at the meeting.

DDRC members also reviewed renderings of some of the downtown projects that have been built in Auburn over the past  decade. 

"I'd like to see us come down and really take an in-depth study of what happens in the lower 25, 30 feet of these buildings because nobody will ever experience this building this way, from this point-of-view," said Hinson after looking at an overhead rendering of Uncommon Auburn, a large private dormitory project being constructed on West Glenn Avenue. "All of the experience is going to be from the sidewalk and from the street. 

"We need to start asking developers to present projects to us the way they will be experienced by people who live in the community as opposed to these bird's-eye views, which a drone will see. But I think if we start asking for the renderings to reflect that kind of reality, we'll be able to have more of a conversation about what these buildings are going to feel like.

"If we want to negotiate for what's going to have the biggest impact on the community, it's this bottom 30 feet because I think that's what's going to make the streets good streets versus streets you just don't want to be on."

Cotten responded that the city can request more street-level renderings from developers coming before the DDRC.

The Planning Department will now start benchmarking the issues discussed with the standards used by other similar communities, and then bring options before the DDRC, which will ultimately recommend changes to the city's code for development and design standard requirements for downtown.

In its next meeting, the DDRC will be updated on the city's streetscape plan.

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