LAUREN JOHNSON

The City of Opelika responded Wednesday to criticism on social media of a planned apartment complex at the corner of 10th Street and Avenue C.

In a letter to the community, Planning Director Matt Mosley responded to specific concerns raised about The Taylor, a four-building complex comprising 182 one- and two-bedroom units.

“There seemed to be a lot of misinformation about exactly where the property was, whether or not it was in a historic district, and whether or not it would remove any historic buildings or homes,” Mosley said.

He said The Taylor would not be located in a historic district and would provide “some transition between downtown Opelika and surrounding properties” and be a “gateway to I-85 In the city center”.

Mayor Gary Fuller said the development, planned a few blocks from downtown Opelika, will be within walking distance of restaurants and businesses and “enhances the economic viability” of downtown merchants. He said the site currently houses a farmer’s market, a junkyard and several vacant buildings.

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“I think some people think that if The Taylor is built on Avenue C, the next thing anyone would want to build is a five-story apartment complex on North Railroad Avenue,” Fuller said. “I think the chances of that happening are slim to none. I do not see it. I wouldn’t support that. I don’t think the city council would support it, and I certainly don’t think the historical commission would support it.

The project has already been passed by the Planning Commission and Opelika City Council, at its meeting on Tuesday, will consider three different issues regarding the proposed development, including rezoning the property, changing residential living conditions and the release of the lane inside the property.

The owner is Marsh Real Estate Investment LLC of Opelika and the development company is Sierra Development Group Incorporated of Macon, Georgia.

Erica Baker Norris, councilor for Ward 2 in Opelika, said she would be hosting a community meeting with Marsh Real Estate Investment to answer questions from the community about affordable housing.

The meeting will take place on March 19 at 9 a.m., and Norris is awaiting confirmation from the Opelika Public Library that the meeting can be held there.

“We’re going to answer a lot of these questions people have and concerns people have about property,” Norris said. “Les Marais will be there to answer certain questions, including affordability. They also mentioned to me that there are plans for additional affordable housing that they plan to invest in as well.

Complaints on social networks

Community members shared their thoughts on The Taylor project on Facebook, with recurring themes that the apartment complex would “ruin” the “historic charm” of the city center, be too expensive and cause traffic problems.

A Facebook post called on citizens to sign a petition titled “Don’t ruin Opelika! with the goal of gaining 1,000 supporters. As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition had 780 supporters.

“Don’t let Opelika turn into Auburn,” one poster wrote. “Every time one of these proper buildings is built, we lose the natural beauty of our city. And then it will be overrun (sic) with a lot of people (sic) and that will also take away our historic charm.

“Please don’t ruin the Opelika we know and love by constructing these unattractive buildings,” another wrote.

Some were concerned about the height of the buildings in the planned complex.

Others speculated on the cost of living in the new apartment complex, which will include a swimming pool, exercise room, barbecue area and other amenities, while lamenting the lack of affordable housing in the area. .

Traffic was another concern.

“This area frames our historic neighborhood,” one person commented. “We need to prevent this area from being overrun by development. The proposal would significantly increase traffic on 10th Street, which is already heavy. This street is often used by emergency vehicles. Heavier traffic will make it harder to get to the emergency room. »

In his letter, Mosley said the goal is to create a downtown where people will live, work and play, and that the “missing piece” for downtown is housing.

“Housing can occur while retaining Opelika’s rich inventory of historic structures and downtown fabric,” he wrote. “This includes adding residential units where possible above existing structures and behind our downtown historic buildings.”

Mosley explained that any growth in the historic downtown must be reviewed and approved by the Historic Preservation Commission.

“This guarantee prevents out-of-character buildings from being placed in our designated historic districts,” he wrote.

In response to concerns about the height of the building, Mosley said the planned complex will be four stories, or about 48 feet tall. He said The Taylor would “by no means be one of the tallest buildings in the city center, nor out of place”, and he pointed out that it would be shorter than the Palace of Lee County Justice (54 feet) and the first gable of First Baptist Church (58 feet).

Mosley wrote that the Taylor will not be seen from downtown and will be mostly hidden behind trees and other existing buildings.

The building’s design uses art deco styles, he said, which are “present in the historic district and relevant since the significant period of the downtown district of Opelika.”

“The use of a flat roof is consistent both with the city center in general and with this area,” he wrote. “Additionally, the materials for these buildings mainly include brick, stucco and clapboard siding.”

On affordable housing, Mosley wrote: “The planning department usually does not know if a project is intended to be an affordable housing project or what the expected rent will be when we review it. We examine the design and the impact it might have on the city, neighborhood and adjacent landowners. »

Mosley said there was a “need and a desire” for residential units downtown.

In a Wednesday afternoon conversation with the Opelika-Auburn News, Fuller said the price of rent is up to the property owner and not to be determined by the city government. He said the developers had not shared the expected rental costs with him, and Eddie Smith, the Council Chairman, later said he had not seen the rates either.

In response to citizens’ concerns about traffic, Mosley wrote that the city’s engineering department planned to add space for a center lane at 10th Street “to ease traffic jams”.

“This might appear to cause traffic issues, but this location would be considered one of the areas least likely to contribute to sprawl or traffic,” he wrote.

Read Mosley’s full letter by going to the city’s website at www.opelika-al.gov and clicking the link under “newsflash.”