BY HANNAH LESTER
News of a new apartment complex coming to the downtown Opelika area has caused conversation and concerns to spread like wildfire in the city.
Should the proposed ordinance for rezoning get approval from the Opelika City Council, The Taylor will be a four-story complex located on 10th street, close to the police station. It will be situated behind the Southerly Warehouse and retail spaces.
Total, the development will be comprised of roughly 182 units and will be approximately 48-feet tall. There will be 25-foot trees out front, a pool, fire pit, gym area and more at The Taylor. The sidewalks will also be widened, as will the road itself.
Residents of the city of Opelika have expressed concern, specifically that the city is following the ways of the city of Auburn and will lose its charm.
“All the people saying Auburn lost that small town feel and Opelika is the place to be,” one Facebook user said. “Well, here you go. Opelika will be like Auburn. Did you really think Opelika could hold out? Money drives.”
There is a petition online with 985 signatures calling for ‘Don’t Ruin Opelika!’
“Opelika is known for its three beautiful historic districts,” the petition said. “Now out-of-state developers want to build 182 modern looking apartments on S. 10th Street next to the police station. This area is original Opelika and includes the oldest buildings and houses in our city. This complex would literally “frame” our downtown historic district. Do we want visitors to wonder why historic Opelika is beginning to look like just any other southern town?”
Nelson Marsh, whose family owns the land and recruited the developer, Sierra Development, to Opelika, said that he and his family love the city and want what’s best for it.
“We actually very intentionally put together that block and then the block in front of it, which includes the Davis-Dyar building,” he said. “ … We started with that almost 20 years ago, I mean it was one of the first things we did with what people call the ‘Bless You’ building now, which is the original Opelika Overall Company Building on the corner of Avenue B and 10th St. When we bought that we really didn’t think we’d ever get a chance to buy any of the other stuff on that block.”
Marsh and his family have worked on more than 200 properties in Opelika, he said, and place a priority on maintaining historic buildings.
“We’ve never torn anything down,” he said. “And we only do historic property. I was born and raised here in downtown, I grew up on the corner of Avenue D and Geneva.”
Marsh said one of the main things hurting Opelika is a lack of density.
“We got in these conversations, and then there was, of course, the big conversation that the city had had around the Carver-Jeter plan and the conversation the city had had around our strategic plan that we wanted some walkable, multi-family to downtown, but it needed to be appropriate, it didn’t need to be seven-story highrises.”
This project will also tie the Carver area back to downtown, he said.
“We made it apparent, this is something that we don’t intend on doing if it’s not great for Opelika,” Marsh said. “If it’s not a home run, we’re not interested. It took us too long to put that land together and it is one of only three sites that’s large enough in the walkable urban core to actually do this sort of development.”
In planning, Marsh said the goal became art-deco for the development.
“It really came down to a point where we said, ‘hey guys, we went to build this, and we believe it’s right and we think it’s going to do great things for Opelika, but it’s going to be expensive,’” he said. “‘And it’s not going to be a copy and paste sort of development.’”
The development plan was approved by the Opelika Planning Commission. The Opelika City Council heard the first reading of rezoning for the land Tuesday night.
Part of the land needs to be rezoned so that it is all under the same zoning, C-1.
“Staff believes strongly that the proposed change, from C-1, C-2, and M-1 to C-1 in the zoning ordinance, and the changes to the property will result in a better outcome for the property and the city, overall,” said Matt Mosely, city planning director, in a letter addressing concerns about the property. “The proposed zoning will provide protections that are currently not available on this property at this time.”
One of the main concerns of residents is the height of the building. Mosely assured residents that the building will not even be the tallest in Opelika.
The Lee County Courthouse, The Lee County Parking Deck, The Lee County Annex and First Baptist Church are all taller.
Due to the topography of the downtown area, these buildings would not be seen from downtown until possibly the southeast corner of Courthouse Square at the intersection of South 9th Street and Avenue B,” Mosely said. “Even then, the buildings would be largely masked by the existing tree canopy and other buildings.
“ … The location of this real estate is somewhat of a transition between downtown Opelika and the surrounding properties. With the ongoing improvements to the Exit 60 interchange, this corridor will become the primary gateway from I-85 to the heart of the city. Staff trust that this redevelopment will augment the improvements and investments being made to the corridor.”
Marsh said that the goals for this property are for individuals and families who want to rent, not own; walk to downtown Opelika; not have to deal with yard maintenance, etc. It will not be marketed to students.
“From a personal level, I ran a business on Railroad Avenue for the last five years and I recently closed it to go back working full-time with my family,” he said. “But I can tell you, there are so many days I could have stood down there in a chicken suit and no one would have noticed.
“Monday and Tuesday you can dance in the middle of the street, I mean there’s nothing down there … It’s choking our businesses not having a consistent regulars crowd. And the regulars that you do see are the people who live in the few pieces that are walkable to downtown and are always down there.”
So the development will bring more business to downtown, Marsh said.
“Housing can occur while maintaining Opelika’s rich inventory of historic structures and the fabric of downtown,” Mosley said.