Proposed student housing projects came under scrutiny at Tuesday's Auburn City Council meeting as the body denied conditional-use approval for two academic-detached dwelling units on Canton Avenue and tabled the consideration of a private dormitory use for a project planned for Armstrong Street.
The council will consider the private dormitory project at its Nov. 5 regular meeting, and before that time has asked the developer and architect to submit more information regarding the project — a floor plan, site plan, more detailed renderings — and to allow the city's Development Review Team to have a first glance at those items, according to a motion made by Councilwoman Beth Witten.
The private dormitory project has faced opposition from some residents who say it would negatively impact traffic and be out-of-scale in the neighborhood.
The project would include 18 beds on a 0.23-acre lot, with two outside units having five bedrooms and two interior units having four bedrooms each.
"You're being asked to consider a two-bedroom, two-bath single-family home being replaced by 18-bedrooms, 18 baths," said Auburn resident Bill Caskey. "Does that sound reasonable?"
The project is in the Urban Neighborhood South zoning district, which is "intended to direct redevelopment toward a more urban, walkable character" and "promotes uses consistent with the zoning and encourages a form that is urban and complementary to the neighborhood."
Town home developments are permitted by right in the district; the only thing keeping this development from being defined as one is its floor plan, which Planning Director Forrest Cotten viewed in a meeting with the developer and her attorney and determined falls under the private dormitory use.
The planning staff's concerns, as noted in meeting materials, are that the development's design would inhibit its ability to blend in with the neighborhood's surroundings rather than the private dormitory use itself.
So far, the only item that the Planning Commission (who recommended the use be approved by a 4-2 vote) and the council have had to consider is a rough sketch of the building that does not give a realistic impression of what the project would actually look like.
Cotten said the conditional use criteria does not say the council can review the architecture as a make-or-break item, but that the council does have the ability to review the "neighborhood character," which includes architecture, size and scale and other elements, when making a decision on whether to approve a conditional use.
The architect for the project defended his design at the meeting, saying he persuaded the developer to use brick and incorporated design elements, such as symmetry, inspired by the neighborhood and the home that currently sits on the property.
Academic Detached Dwelling Units
Also at this week's City Council meeting, the council denied conditional use approval for two academic detached dwelling units — a recently codified housing use that features a single-family dwelling with a floor plan similar to that of private dormitories, with four or five bedrooms and baths and no master bedroom.
The applicant, Lagasse Construction, was proposing to build the developments on 321 and 325 Canton Avenue, but the use was denied by a 7-2 vote.
"I would say that it's for health, safety and welfare because of the density and the impact on the neighborhood as regards to the welfare of the neighborhood," Witten said when asked to clarify the reason for the council's denial.
The topic of ADDUs around Canton Avenue and in northwest Auburn is a sensitive topic for some who live in that area and who believe that the influx of such developments has injured the character of their previously single-family home neighborhoods.
Councilwoman Connie Fitch Taylor, who lives on Williams Street near Canton Avenue, is one of those, and spoke out against the requested conditional use.
"To add two additional homes to the neighborhood, I'm not going to agree with that. ... What we have decided because of what has already happened is we want to try to be neighborly with the students that are already there," she said. "I have no problem with improving the neighborhood, but if you're going to build, then at least build something that's more compatible with what was already there."
Councilman Brett Smith cautioned the council not to make decisions based on the individuals who may occupy the potential homes.
"If we're making an argument that we're concerned about particular people living there, I think we're running afoul of potential federal and state law," Smith said.
Taylor confirmed that the design of the homes is the problem.
"It's not a problem about who is living in the homes, because students are living all over," she said. "The problem's not the students ... I'm just talking about the type of housing."