Emotions were high on Thursday night as Auburn residents flooded the city Planning Commission’s meeting chambers in opposition to a planned commercial development near the Donahue Ridge neighborhood.
Ultimately, commissioners agreed with attendees in that there were too many questions unanswered about the proposed retail center and tabled several items relating to the project to a future meeting, despite the Planning Department having recommended approval.
“Auburn can expect quality development, and quality development is going to be a mixture of what is acceptable to the people, in my opinion, and what can be built by the developers,” said Commissioner Charles Pick. “I have seen or heard no attempt for anybody [from the developers] to have met with the residents.”
Pick described the turnout and citizen correspondence as a level of public outcry he had not seen in his six years on the commission.
“We citizens of Auburn are an emotional people,” said resident Warren Tidwell. “We throw toilet paper into trees after big events, for goodness sake. Emotion, specifically love and an appreciation for the intangible things that make Auburn special like the Auburn Spirit are what drew many of us to Auburn and kept us here.”
Tidwell said he moved to the more secluded area from a Tuscaloosa that he described as sprawling and poorly planned.
The nearly 14-acre lot located at the intersection of North Donahue Drive and West Farmville Road is owned by local developer Tom Hayley and would include, among other retail developments, a 60,000-square-foot shopping center. The entire lot is estimated to take 10 to 20 years to completely build out.
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It was the large shopping center and a potential increase in traffic to the area that
“When I saw the map of the development … my heart sank,” said resident Jin Elkins. “The encroachment of this proposal onto the 13 single-family residential homes that are directly above this parcel is at a scale I’ve never seen before in my 24 years of living in Auburn.”
Site plans included a loading dock for the center that would be as close as 35 feet to the rear of Elkins’ and other nearby homeowners’ properties. Residents asked that a larger buffer between the lot and homes be built if the project will come to fruition in the future.
Some attendees told the commission there was no demand for another shopping plaza in the area and that the intensity of commercial developments was too much.
“I do think that everyone needs to recognize that it is inevitable to have some commercial at this location, but I do think that we need to expect quality in our development,” said Commissioner Sarah Brown. “I think we need an increased buffer-yard, I think we do need to have a vision of a neighborhood shopping center, really look at the elevations and character of that particular development.”
Over the coming weeks, a traffic study in the area will be completed and Planning Director Forrest Cotten said the city will reach out to Hayley to work around the concerns from the neighbors.
Depending on how long it takes the city and developer to work through the issues, Cotten said the commission could hear the proposal again at its meeting in April or May.