During Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the Council approved a commercial development agreement with Buc-ee’s for a location at the northeast corner of Cox Road and Interstate 85. Buc-ee’s is a Texas-based chain of convenience stores and gas stations that currently has 40 locations throughout Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
Though the commercial development agreement was unanimously approved, the Council was asked to postpone annexing, rezoning and approving conditional use approvals until the June 1 Council meeting. According to City Manager Megan Crouch, the agreement gives approval for the Buc-ee’s location once the postponed votes are approved, giving them the assurance to finalize contracts to buy the land.
Buc-ee’s Real Estate Director Stan Beard told the Council that the new location will provide at least 175 jobs to the area, all of which start at $15 per hour. The location is expected to generate between $2 and $2.6 million in tax revenue to Lee County.
Buc-ee’s prohibits tractor-trailers from all locations because Beard said their business model conflicts with that of truckers. The Auburn location will have electric car chargers, though the exact number and type are not yet known.
Beard hopes the Auburn location will be open in the fall of 2022, as he said he wants it to be open for when the Aggies come to visit Jordan-Hare.
For Tuesday night’s Council meeting, Ward 3 Council member Beth Witten was absent.
When discussing rezoning property for two duplexes on Harper Avenue and Summerhill Road, Ward 2 Council member Kelley Griswold initially stated he was against rezoning since it would up the limit of unrelated occupants per home from two to five.
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Planning Director Katherine Robison stated that the Planning Commission was split on recommending rezoning because they determined the surrounding area to need a zoning study in the future. They deemed the requested rezoning to be appropriate for the properties.
Both Griswold and Ward 6 Council member Bob Parsons had concerns that the rezoning would look like “spot zoning” or “cherry picking” properties.
Ward 8 Council member Tommy Dawson said he is familiar with the duplexes and stated his appreciation for the owners improving the lots. Ward 4 Council member Brett Smith agreed.
“We need to encourage any type of improvement we can make in this area,” Smith said. “It sounds like … the [Planning] Commission denied it based on a future study that may end up putting us in the same place. I think it’s advantageous and our duty to the public not to delay the property owners. If we’re getting to that path at the end, why delay it? It’s not necessary.”
Parsons said that though he wanted a study of the area, he was willing to go ahead with the rezoning. Griswold also said that he was swayed by the arguments presented.
The rezoning passed unanimously.
In a discussion about amending the City’s Zoning Ordinance, Griswold proposed an amendment of his own, lowering the proposed height of parapets from a range of six to four feet to a maximum of four feet. Parapets are decorative walls on top of a flat-roofed building.
Robison said parapets offer a cost-effective way for developers to add architectural details and height variation between buildings that may otherwise all reach the building limit of 75 feet. They can also hide appliances such as air conditioning units that may otherwise be visible from the sidewalk.
“As we all know, building height is an emotional topic downtown,” Griswold said. “We’ve gone from 65 [feet] to 75 [feet] to who-knows-what, and we’ve had parapet height added onto that in the past to allow for four feet. It seems like we’re continuing to inch forward.”
Griswold objected to the “height creep” he has observed in buildings downtown. He said that a six-foot parapet will not hide anything that a four-foot parapet would not be able to when seen from ground level.
“We’re just adding more to be adding more,” Griswold said. “Right now, you’re walking down the tunnel of doom when you go down the street and looking straight up. There’s no architectural advantage of having a six-foot parapet versus a four-foot parapet when you’re having to look straight up just to see.”
Griswold continued to explain that his constituents have brought concerns to him about building heights. Parsons agreed, saying his constituents have been unhappy with the look of downtown.
“I believe a lot of these downtown design review recommendations will provide us with better projects downtown,” said Mayor Ron Anders. “They’re going to look better, they’re going to fit better with the street, they’re going to have better entrances and I think they’re going to be better-looking buildings. The reality is, there are three or four projects currently there that we’re all just going to have to live with.”
Dawson stated that Auburn University’s new Culinary Science Center will be over 110 feet tall once completed, above the City's 75-foot building limit. He believes that a government-owned institution should not be able to build above and beyond what a citizen can.
Griswold stated that his amendment affected one part of the whole Zoning Ordinance amendment, but he agreed with the rest of the document.
Griswold’s amendment to lower the proposed maximum parapet height failed with a vote of 3-5. Griswold, Parsons and Ward 1 Council member Connie Fitch-Taylor voted in approval.
The original amendment to the Zoning Ordinance was unanimously approved.
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