A history of height in Auburn's College Edge Overlay District
On Thursday, Feb. 8, the Auburn Planning Commission unanimously recommended a change in the height limit of buildings in the College Edge Overlay District (CEOD). Currently, the building height limit within the district is 65 feet, a reduction from the 75-foot limit originally recommended as part of the Downtown Master Plan.
The CEOD covers the core of downtown Auburn, including property fronting College Street from the railroad tracks to just south of Magnolia Avenue.
Downtown review initiatives
Three different City initiatives in the last 12 years have taken an in-depth look at the City of Auburn’s zoning regulations in the downtown area. The first major review began in 2006, with the formation of the Urban Core Task Force (UCTF), led by former Auburn Mayor Jan Dempsey.
The mission of the UCTF was to evaluate laws and policies toward formulating a community vision for the Urban Core. As part of this, the group vetted building height and found that the existing 60-foot height limit could not accommodate non-residential uses within a typical five-story building.
Non-residential uses require greater floor-to-ceiling heights than residential uses, which typically require 12-feet per floor. Offices usually have 14-foot ceilings, and commercial or retail spaces usually have 16-foot ceilings. The UCTF proposed increasing the building height to 66 feet in the Urban Core and CEOD to allow a typical five-story mixed-use building to have a commercial ground floor, offices on the second floor and up to three residential floors. The Auburn City Council adopted these recommendations in 2007.
In 2009, the Auburn Chamber of Commerce Commercial Business Focus Group filed a report with Auburn Mayor Bill Ham Jr. identifying challenges and obstacles to development in the Urban Core, including the changes adopted in 2007. In response, Mayor Ham appointed a Downtown Study Committee (DSC) consisting of Council and Planning Commission members. The DSC reviewed the Chamber report and made recommendations to help downtown Auburn thrive.
The DSC ultimately held 13 meetings with input from stakeholders including downtown business and property owners, Auburn University, the Chamber of Commerce and the former chair of the UCTF.
The DSC’s recommendations included raising the maximum building height in the Urban Core and CEOD from 66 to 75 feet, allowing more than residential units to exist above the second floor in a multi-story building. The Auburn City Council adopted the DSC’s recommendations in 2010.
Downtown Master Plan
In 2013, the City of Auburn initiated the Downtown Master Plan (DMP) process. The process solicited input from stakeholders and residents through public workshops, a community preference survey, a steering committee that included local business owners and community leaders, individual stakeholder interviews and open house and public hearings. After extensive study and public input over an almost three-year period, the Downtown Master Plan recommended that the maximum building height remain at 75 feet to both “preserve and expand the existing charm and sense of scale of the City’s Historic core as a shopping, dining and entertainment district.”
The Auburn City Council adopted the Downtown Master Plan in 2015. During the March 2016 adoption hearing for the zoning regulations needed to implement the DMP, the Council reduced the maximum building height in the CEOD to 65 feet, less than what was recommended by any of the three previous initiatives.
Revisiting the height limit
The height discussion arose again during a joint meeting with the Council and Planning Commission in November. As a result, the issue was brought again before the Auburn Planning Commission to restore the building height of 75 feet recommended by the Downtown Study Committee and the Downtown Master Plan.
After years of study and public input, the staff recommended to the Planning Commission that 75 feet represents the optimal height to both “preserve and expand” downtown, allowing for a dynamic mix of uses, rather than just residential, above the first floor.
The Auburn City Council will hold a public hearing and consider the Planning Commission’s recommendation at its March 20 meeting.