The Opelika City Council approved the Downtown Residential Living ordinance Tuesday night, which will allow for The Taylor to be built.
The Taylor is a four-building apartment complex that will feature 182 one- and two-bedroom units and is planned for the corner of 10th Street and Avenue C near downtown Opelika.
The vote passed 3-2, with Ward 2 Councilwoman Erica Baker Norris and Ward 3 Councilman Tim Aja voting against it.
Council members were divided in their positions some believing the ordinance and the potential addition of The Taylor will be a benefit to Opelika while others believe it will cause more problems.
The location for The Taylor is inside Ward 1, which is represented by Councilman George Allen who voted to approve the Downtown Residential Living ordinance.
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“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Allen said. “It’ll give more people the opportunity for places to live, and it’s good for Ward 1.”
Ward 5 Councilman Todd Rauch hesitated before casting his vote, but he decided to vote in favor of approving the ordinance.
Rauch said his No. 1 concern with the project has been traffic on 10th Street.
Before the meeting on Tuesday, Rauch wanted more information about the plan for the road.
After Mayor Gary Fuller explained at the meeting that there are plans to add acceleration and deceleration lanes on the developer’s side of the property, Rauch said he was satisfied because he believes the additional lane will give the road the space that’s needed.
“That property will come from the west side, which is the development side, which is huge,” he said. “No one loses their yard or anything like that.”
During the meeting, Norris asked if the city will be paying for the additional lane construction.
Fuller replied, “Typically what happens is in any kind of development the city will help provide proper transportation, so the city very well could be paying for part of that turning lane.”
Rauch said the area will have sidewalks and two different entrances into the development, which he believes will make the area more spacious.
“I would like it to be more, but we are already limited. We have a police station, we have homes and the barbecue place Chuck’s,” Rauch said.
The city has conducted water, sewer and traffic studies and the developers went back to the drawing board on the design of the apartments.
“The only thing we ask now is for people’s patience and trust that this is going to be right for Opelika,” Rauch said.
Norris said she needed to be the voice for all the citizens who came to the council meetings expressing their concerns about the project.
“I still serve an underserved community who has a very difficult time finding affordable housing,” Norris said. “We know that these apartments are going to be far, far above anything they can afford. The city has not addressed affordable housing in the community, but they move forward with assisting with providing housing that a majority of their citizens cannot afford.”
Some citizens had expressed their distaste for the aesthetics of the apartment complex and said it doesn’t match the downtown area or Opelika’s small-town feel. Norris, who was born and raised in Opelika, said she understands these concerns.
“I am very excited about the increase of population and (foot) traffic to the downtown area, Norris said. “However, there has to be a voice for the voiceless.”
After the initial proposal was introduced, Norris met with the owners of the property, Marsh Real Estate Investment LLC, and the developers, Sierra Development Group Incorporated from Macon, Ga.
“I think the concept is great. I just think where it’s going to be proposed to be built is a concern,” she said.
This ordinance will increase the number of dwelling units allowed per acre from 16 to 28 units and will allow residential housing on all levels of buildings located downtown. Norris said allowing housing on the ground level of downtown buildings will cause concerns for business owners and potential owners that want to open a business downtown.
Aja also voted against the ordinance, citing an overabundance of apartments in Opelika, the aestheticsof the project, traffic on 10th Street and more.
“I’ve voted against that project on every vote that’s come up due to lots of concerns that have come up from my constituents,” Aja said.
In the next two years, Opelika will have almost 1,000 apartments, Aja said, and there are concerns about having too many apartments and not enough people to fill them.
Opelika City Council President and Ward 4 Councilman Eddie Smith, who voted for the ordinance, said if the owner of the land meets all the requirements and ordinances of the city, they “ought to have the right” to build on the property.
“We didn’t approve The Taylor; The Taylor was not the object of the vote,” Smith said. “The object of the vote was to be able to do residential living in that location at a scaled-down density. The developers and the owners of the property now have to make a decision on whether they want to come and propose to the city for approval to build under the new requirements.”
Since the ordinance was passed, it’s now up to the developer to create a timeline for the project and go through the process of developing the property.
Sierra Development Group Inc. did not immediately respond to the Opelika-Auburn News on Wednesday.