To Our Opelika Community,
There has been a great deal of discussion floating around on a new apartment project – The Taylor. I wanted to take a moment to share insight into how the city has evaluated this project. In this letter, I will address many of the common concerns that have been brought up on social media and in other places. Because of the location, surrounding properties and other issues, The Taylor project was not evaluated solely as downtown project typically would be.
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.
The Planning Department concurs with various consultants that Downtown Opelika needs residential growth to maintain its health. The idea is that we can create a downtown where people will live, work, and play. Downtown Opelika has always been an economic center. It continues to house many institutions like government buildings, businesses and churches. In recent years, we have seen Opelika become a destination for events and community engagement. The missing piece is housing.
Housing can occur while maintaining Opelika’s rich inventory of historic structures and the fabric of downtown. This includes adding residential units where it is possible above existing structures and behind our historic buildings downtown. Because of the foresight of residents and leaders years ago, any growth in the historic core of downtown is required to go through review and approval by the Historic Preservation Commission. This safeguard prevents buildings out of character being placed within our designated historic districts.
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. The proposed zoning will provide protections that are currently not available on this property at this time.
I will now address some specific concerns – Impact on Character of Opelika, Traffic Concerns, Affordability & Housing Issues, and Use of Property.
The proposed property is not in any recognized historic districts within Opelika. It borders a vacant property in the Southside/Geneva District. The project does not, however, border directly or across the street any designated historic structures or single-family homes of any type.
If this were in a historic district, the Planning Department would look at a variety of items including height, scale/massing, setback, directional expression, building materials, and roof shape. From a historic preservation perspective, new buildings are never intended to replicate the old style but complement them through design features. Generally, the city does not regulate style, color, or other aesthetic choice.
Specifics of The Taylor
- Height has been listed as one of the most common concerns proposed with this building. The building is four stories at approximately 48 feet in height above ground. This is taller than most of the buildings within downtown. However, the building is by no means one of the tallest buildings downtown, nor is it out of character.
A Comparison of Buildings in Downtown Opelika
Lee County Courthouse
54 feet (front gable)
75 feet (tower)
Lee County Parking
New addition from Ave A
Lee County Annex
10th St addition
Opelika City Hall
First Baptist Church
58 feet (front gable)
100 feet to steeple
Gift Shop/Agricola Building
40 feet /48 feet
Opelika Police Dept
Sits above street grade
There are many other buildings within the downtown area that are between 30-40 feet in height. The buildings on the same side of the street include the new Opelika Police Station that is approximately 40 feet in height and Overall/Davis-Dyer Building at 30 feet in height at the corner.
The allowable height for buildings within all commercial and manufacturing zones is 75 feet. This includes C-1, C-2, and M-1 zones. Some of these uses could be built to 75 feet in height today without any approval from the Planning Commission or City Council.
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. Even then, the buildings would be largely masked by the existing tree canopy and other buildings. The proposed site sits at 792-795 feet above sea level (msl). The intersection of 8th Street and the Railroad is at 795 feet above sea level. However, between these two points the topography goes up to approximately 808 feet msl. Much in the same way that many of the other taller buildings in downtown are only visible for a block or two, these buildings would only be visible to a small number of properties.
- Massing and scale look at how the building is in relation to adjacent buildings. The proposed buildings would be about 70 percent of the length of the Opelika Police Station. The buildings also have step-backs to break up the fourth floor of each building.
- The setback of this building is held at the same setback line used by the Opelika Police Station, adjacent law office, and the building to the north. This will allow wide sidewalks, plantings and additional road improvements and prevent the building from “looming” over the street or adjacent properties.
- The building uses variations on Art Deco styles that are present within the historic district and were relevant from the significant period of Opelika’s downtown district. The buildings face the street and provide points of entry that relate to the street. The use of a flat roof is consistent with both downtown in general and this area. Additionally, the materials on these buildings include primarily brick, stucco, and lap siding.
The Taylor would add 182 units to the area. The Engineering Department is working with the project applicant to acquire additional space for a center lane to ease traffic congestion.
This might appear to cause traffic concerns, but this location would be considered one of the least likely areas to contribute to sprawl or traffic. Residents in this area would be less than 15 minutes walking to downtown. These residents would be unlikely to drive a vehicle downtown to utilize parking due to their proximity.
The location of this development within the downtown street grid also means that there are alternate routes. If 10th Street is backed up, a resident can simply go down Avenue C to Clanton Street and then access Martin Luther King Boulevard (Columbus Parkway) or Auburn Street.
Affordability and Housing Concerns
The Planning Department does not typically know whether a project is intended to be an affordable housing product or what the expected rent will be during our review. We look at the design and impact it could have on the City, neighborhood, and adjacent property owners. However, one would think that increasing the number of units would increase the overall supply and reduce scarcity. From discussions over the last year there appears to be a need and desire for residential units, especially in the downtown area.
Recent housing studies done in coordination with Auburn University have suggested that it is very unlikely that many Auburn students would live this far from campus. This development proposes primarily one- and two-bedroom units with a few three-bedroom units. In most cases, units designed for purpose-built student housing are designed as four- and five-bedroom units that can be rented individually. Units in the Taylor will likely be leased by individuals or very small households.
Additionally, this site contains no housing currently and would not push anyone out of their current unit.
It is often thought that any development in a downtown area should have commercial use on the first floor with residential above. While this is often true, there is only so much commercial demand for space at any time. Some cities have seen that requiring commercial 1st floors on all mixed use projects can lead to the space being left vacant. The Alabama Main Street study on Downtown Opelika stated that without additional residential growth in close proximity to downtown, new commercial uses would likely cannibalize existing uses. Additionally, commercial uses on the 1st floor would likely require on street parking on 10th Street. At this time, we do not feel that on street parking would be optimal for this location.
City Council Review
The City Council will look at three different issues regarding the proposed development on South 10th Street.
1. Rezoning of the property from C-1, C-2, and M-1 to C-1.
The subject property is already partially zoned C-1. The majority of the property is zoned C-2 (office/retail) and M-1 (manufacturing). The C-1 zone has the most control over uses allowed on the property and allows buildings to be built to the property line like the Dayspring building (former feed store). The C-2 zone still allows residential apartments, the same building height (75 feet), and less desirable uses. The M-1 zone allows manufacturing uses by right and the same building height.
2. Modification of the Residential Living Requirements to allow residential units on the ground floor, increase the density from 16 units per acre to 36 units per acre, and improve the design standards.
Both the Carver-Jeter Plan and a recent study by Alabama Main Street noted the lack of downtown residential as the primary deficiency of downtown. The lack of residential has been cited by many residents in the ongoing Opelika 2040 plan. The Main Street study, produced in 2021, specifically stated that downtown retail market would struggle without additional units nearby. They cited three ways this could effectively occur: upper story residential on existing buildings in the core of downtown, increasing density in existing neighborhoods, or mid-rise buildings on redevelopment property on the outskirts within ¼ to ½ mile of the center of downtown (8th Street and Railroad Avenue).
Density has also been noted as a primary concern. Many cities have removed density maximums in their downtown core in favor of other standards. The City of Opelika currently allows up to 20 units per acre with a conditional use approval. Most lots within the traditional downtown are between 2,000-4,000 square feet in size. Applying the current density to these properties would typically allow between 0-1 residential units on those properties. Many of the existing buildings with second story residential have densities in the range 36 to 45 unit per acre. The proposed change would allow this flaw in the zoning ordinance to be corrected while preventing overdevelopment.
3. Vacate the alleyway within the property.
The alley was once used to access homes that have not been present on the property for decades. The property owner owns both sides and there are no utilities present.
As you can see, the City of Opelika Planning Department has carefully reviewed The Taylor Apartment project. I hope that we have helped answer any concerns. If you have more questions, feel free to contact the Planning Department at 334-705-5156.
City of Opelika Planning Director.