Auburn Council votes against office space

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By Hannah Lester
hlester@opelikaobserver.com

Auburn City Council met Tuesday to discuss a potential development on the corner of Moores Mill Road and Hamilton Road.

Multiple citizens registered for the Zoom meeting to express their frustration and opposition to the ordinance.

Brett Basquin, representing PSM Holdings, LLC. asked the council to amend the planning development district for the Hamilton Place shopping center.

PSM Holdings, LLC wanted to use the property for an office space and was asking the council to amend ordinance number 2569 to allow for that use.

The owner spoke at the meeting and said that the use as an office building is appropriate for the area as it will be empty on nights, weekends and holidays.

Kevin Wells was the first citizen to speak out against the proposed ordinance.

“I would ask that the council not vote to change the zoning for a couple of reasons,” he said. “Primarily, listed under comp plan 2030 as has already been stated in your discussions but also safety.”

Wells said that he has seen the traffic study the city conducted on the area over the summer showing that speed limits were mostly being observed. However, this study was conducted when traffic density was at a lower peak, he said.

He said he would be curious to see what the study would reveal if conducted at different times of day now.

“Another thing about that roadway is the property issue is at a low point in Moore’s Mill Road where the road rises in either directions to a rise about 75 to 100 yards in each direction, limiting sight distance, shortening reaction times to cars flying over the top of those hills.” Wells said. “Of the two accidents documented in this study, one occurred at the low point at the entrance to Bent Brook in a time of heavy traffic. I know this accident, our nephew was involved. The other car flipped and landed on its roof. This is not a safe location due to cars coming over the top of the hill at a fairly high rate of speed within a very short distance.”

Most citizens who spoke were concerned about safety if the ordinance was approved.

“As Mr. Wells said, who’s child was in a wreck, and it was a very bad wreck; I know wrecks can happen all over the city but this is not going to be a fender bender,” said another resident Julie Melton. “So if it happens, it’s going to be bad and I pray it doesn’t happen to my child or one of my friends’ children. And so I am coming to you, obviously passionately about this to say, take a second.”

Melton asked that the council consider every-day life and not just the traffic study.

“It is getting to be extremely difficult to turn out of that neighborhood, if you start adding something directly across the street with a left hand turn back into it, it’s just going to be crazy,” said another citizen, Mark Massey. “… Understand that somebody will die on these intersections with that much traffic coming across the street. It is not going to be good.”

Ernie Merritt said that the planned development district should remain the way it is zoned and planned.

“This is against everything that the land-use plan has identified or has been designed and that wasn’t just something that somebody arbitrarily wrote one day,” he said. “There was a lot of work that the city and the folks before us all made evaluations and made determinations on and identified that land as that.”

Merritt also addressed the issue of property rights which some used to promote Basquin’s development plan.

He said that while property rights exist, they are irrelevant in this situation because Basquin purchased the land knowing what it was zoned for.

There was a citizen who spoke in favor of the ordinance.

Michael Clifton said he previously owned the property and spoke in the owner’s favor. He said that PSM Holdings, LLC has put a lot of time and effort into this and he hoped the council would approve the ordinance.

The council ultimately voted against the ordinance, however.

“I put a lot of thought into this decision on Moores Mill Road,” said Ward 8 Council Member Tommy Dawson. “And I sympathize with the developer, I really do, and it was a hard thing to do but ultimately I think it comes down to, for me, I can’t vote for something where someone’s child could get hurt, when they’ve expressed that tonight.”

Ward 5 Council Member Steven Dixon expressed a similar sentiment about why he voted against the ordinance.

“Many of ya’ll know that I was in a car accident when I was little and that just spoke really true to me,” he said. “And I’m all for property rights, but I do think that safety is the number one priority. And I think there are things outside of tests and what books show that can happen. And that is the reason why I voted the way I voted tonight.”

Student Housing:

The council also voted to approve an ordinance that reduces the bed density in the UN-W zone from 255 to 170 beds per acre.

This item was postponed from the previous council meeting after Mayor Ron Anders said that he would like more time to evaluate if this was the correct number for the city.

Although there was quite a bit of discussion at the last meeting, the item was passed Tuesday without discussion or questions.

Other Business:

The council approved the purchase of a Stivers Ford 2021 F-550 Cab 4×2 Chassis Cab Dump Trump for the Public Works Department for over $62,000.

The council approved the purchase of a Stivers Ford 2021 F-550 Crew Cab 4×4 Chassis Cab Platform Truck for the Public Works Department for almost $56,000.

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