The Auburn City Council got its first look at the U.S. Highway 280 Focus Area Study during a presentation by the Planning Department at a meeting on Tuesday.
Planning Department staff started working on the focus area study in June of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. The city sent out 310 postcards about the study, received 30 responses to an online map and survey last summer and had 35 people attend a virtual open house last August. The city also reached out to stakeholders, including property owners, Auburn University, which owns roughly 16 percent of the property in the focus area, the Lee County Highway Department; the City of Opelika Planning Department; and others.
City Councilman Kelley Griswold indicated that he will make a motion to postpone consideration of the study at Tuesday's City Council meeting to provide a window for another open house, with the hope that the lifted pandemic restrictions will allow more people to attend and provide input.
"I just think that because of having to do it virtually during Covid and all we may not have gotten the level of participation that we sometimes get on these focus area studies," said Griswold, who also noted that the delay would give new Planning Director Steve Foote more time to review the study. A date has not yet been set for the open house, which is expected to occur before the end of the month.
"Area studies, they help you focus more intently on a smaller area," said Foote. "The CompPlan looks at the whole city, and then you do these focus areas, which help us better guide the growth and manage the development in that area."
The Planning Commission will vote on the focus area study at its meeting today, and if ultimately approved by the Council, it would then be folded into the city's land-use plan, CompPlan 2030, which is also set to go through its five-year update soon.
The study area roughly runs along the 280 corridor starting at the city limits of Auburn and Opelika.
The majority of the study focuses on land that is still in the county and isn't subject to municipal zoning regulations, said Principal Planner Logan Kipp, who has spearheaded the effort. According to the presentation, 62 percent of the parcels (1,537 acres) in the study fall in the county, with 38 percent (936 acres) falling within city limits. Current land use shows that 61 percent of the properties are vacant; 16 percent belong to Auburn University; 14 percent are single-family; and 7 percent are classified as agriculture.
The common themes expressed in feedback from the survey include the need for more recreational opportunities; the desire to beautify the corridor and more commercial uses at the intersection of U.S. 280 and North College Street.
Currently, most of the properties fall under either a Rural land-use designation or as 280 Corridor Reserve, a placeholder use. The focus area study proposes a gateway commercial node at 280-North College intersection; and a master plan mixed use designation for the parcels surrounding Shelton Mill Road between 280 and University Drive, most of which are over 100 acres each.
"We recognize there's a lot of undeveloped land in this area that is under common ownership or kind of being conglomerated through purchases," said Kipp. "For us, that represents a threat or a risk, the uncertainty."