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Auburn zoning board denies variances for proposed restaurant on Gay Street

Auburn zoning board denies variances for proposed restaurant on Gay Street

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The City of Auburn’s Board of Zoning Adjustment unanimously denied a developer’s request for three separate variances concerning a proposed box-style fast food restaurant on South Gay Street Wednesday.

“The current ordinance was put into place to prevent exactly this type of development,” BZA member Robert Cochran said.

Following a public hearing, the BZA denied a request for a variance concerning the size of the lot adjacent to the Heart of Auburn shopping center. City ordinance requires the minimum size of a lot for road use be 30,000 square feet. Developer Bret Basquin, with the Foresite Group, asked the Board approve a lot size of 24,841 square feet, a difference of roughly 5,000 square feet.

The BZA also failed to approve a variance that a drive-thru pickup window be a dominant feature of the restaurant, along with a request that the restaurant’s order box be 80 feet from the adjacent residence. City ordinance requires order boxes be 100 feet from residences.

“A restaurant can go on this property,” Basquin said. “What kicks it into another category is the drive-thru.”

Basquin argued against the pickup window being considered a dominant feature, which, if facing Gay Street, would violate city ordinance.

“We disagree that the pickup window is a dominant feature. It’s going to be a pickup window, that’s it,” he said. “We don’t think putting the back of this thing to the existing development is what we want to do.”

In reference to the order box, Basquin said the Taco Bell on Gay Street has an order box 60 feet away from residences, as does the McDonald’s on Magnolia Avenue.

Resident Lynda Tremaine owns the home adjacent to the property and rents it primarily to Auburn University students. She, along with several other community members who attended Wednesday’s hearing, opposes the proposed restaurant.

“The use of an outdoor order box would be constant noise,” she said. “The aesthetics of this area are now under attack.”

BZA member Joan Penrod said she was “disappointed” in the proposed addition to the Heart of Auburn development.

“It was implied to attract pedestrian traffic, not through traffic. What we’re looking at is 10 cars idling and residences next door,” she said. “Where’d the class go? This was supposed to be a classy development.”

Lee County Commissioner Sheila Eckman spoke at the hearing, praising Auburn’s “sister city” of Opelika for its leadership in historic preservation, which she said Auburn is lacking.

“It’s landed in your laps,” she said to the BZA. “I hope you’ll do the right thing and deny this.”

The proposed box restaurant would not have an indoor dining option, Basquin said, but would feature walk-up and drive-through ordering and an outdoor patio. While Basquin said there was not a tenant yet for the proposed building, Guthrie’s confirmed to the Opelika-Auburn News Tuesday the chain was looking into the location.

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