Auburn Ward 5 Councilwoman Lynda Tremaine has entered into an agreement to sell some of her properties because of what she says is a dramatic increase in property taxes.
The three houses near the corner of Gay Street and Samford Avenue, owned by Tremaine and her husband, Joel Tremaine, have been in the family for many years. Two of the houses belonged to her grandmother, Fannie Heard Williams, and great aunt, Ella Celeste Heard. The couple purchased the third house at 358 S. Gay St. in 1977. The houses are currently being rented out to students, two of whom are their granddaughters.
First reported by The Auburn Villager, after years of refusing to sell the property these beloved homes sit on, the family said it is disappointed that they have reached what they believe to be their last option.
“It’s just always been a part of me,” Tremaine said. “Never has it been our intention since we have owned these houses to ever sell them.”
The Tremaines previously did not even entertain offers, but with the recent spike in property taxes, the couple felt as if they had no other choice. Tremaine said their property taxes tripled after the lot behind theirs, former home of Price’s Barbeque House, was sold and transformed into a parking lot in 2017.
Tremaine described herself and her husband as the “protectors” of the properties. She said their years of refusal to sell them were due to fear of contributing to the growing commercialization of the area and the potential that that corner could lose some of its neighborhood charm.
She said they will now move the houses off the property to another lot somewhere in town.
Heartbroken, Tremaine said this was their only option.
“It’s time for us to save the houses,” she said.
Tremaine said that two of the houses won’t be a problem to move because of their design as central houses with hallways running through the middle of them. The final selling of the property is scheduled for next fall, so in the meantime, the couple is looking for properties on which to relocate them.
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Tremaine said that after the family was notified that their property taxes would triple, they appealed to the county Board of Equalization and had their taxes lowered for this year, but said she believes the properties' appraisals will continue to rise after the sale of the property surround the homes.
The couple has explored other options to save their homes, which Tremaine said hold a lot of history and memory for the family. Costs for strategies – such as renovating them for public use, retail use or adding apartments behind them – remain too high to justify maintaining the space, she said.
Tremaine said the secret was out, and that everyone had figured out what a great place Auburn was. While some celebrate the progress of growth and how beneficial it is for local business, some residents are not so happy as the old Auburn they once knew diminishes.
“It makes me sick,” Tremaine said about losing the houses. “Auburn is growing … it’s not a village anymore.”
The population of Auburn has more than doubled over the past 50 years, from less than 23,000 to now more than 60,000 residents, according to U.S. Census data.
Tremaine said she hoped that some type of architectural review board could be instituted to protect the families and the neighborhoods in Auburn.
There was an attempt to create a historic district out of the three houses nearly 10 years ago, which did not include two neighboring houses owned by the Heart of Auburn. Tremaine said she saw this as a weak attempt to create a new historic district.
She was one of the proponents on the council of a 45-foot to 55-foot height ordinance, for which she was outvoted. The current height ordinance in the downtown area is 75 feet, a height she considers to be entirely too tall for a city as small as Auburn.
“I just want things to be simple – and nothing is simple anymore," she said. "Life has gotten very complicated.”
Tremaine and her husband said it was never their intention to sell these properties. When they were approached by a developer in 2014, who wanted to put a drive-through restaurant adjacent to their property, the Tremaines approached the city's Board of Zoning Adjustment to block a request for a variance.
Tremaine said that it was this experience that led her to run for City Council.
Now, after her first term, she said she is not seeking re-election. She spoke about her frustration with progress on the council.
“I asked a lot of questions," she said when asked about her legacy as councilwoman and if she had accomplished what she set out to do. "Questions need to be asked. … At least people thanked me for my efforts.”
She remembered her idea of the council job being two meetings a month, but she laughed and explained that it could be a 24/7 job. She made it clear that she isn’t refusing to run in protest; she is just ready to turn it over to someone else.
“I’m just ready to retire," she said. "Four years is enough. ... It was both rewarding and frustrating."
She said the lack of attendance from the community at City Council meetings surprised her and is a huge problem for Auburn. Tremaine believes it is the responsibility of the community to protect their homes and their neighborhoods.
Jan. 15, 2018: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Tremaine's appeal to the Board of Equalization was denied.