Ambitious Auburn loft plan has parking problem

16 apartment units proposed for Reamer Street
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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An ambitious plan to build lofts on a historic Downtown Auburn property could be shelved because the project doesn’t have enough parking space to meet city requirements.

Auburn’s Sarasota Group has proposed constructing 16 apartment lofts in two new buildings on a 0.7-acre parcel now occupied by the historic Tuttle Mansion at 144 Reamer St.

The distinctive 1860s-vintage building — now under renovation to remain a combination of a salon and apartments — will stay, according to Sarasota Group plans.

Two new, two-story Craftsman-style buildings are planned for construction on the High Street side of the lot — one at the front of the Tuttle Mansion, one in the back.

The property lies inside a commercial district that allows apartments and rental units. But requirements call for 46 to 49 new parking spaces to be built. Sarasota Group maintains that the maximum number of parking spaces it could fit on the parcel would be 23.

Sarasota Group was considering the possibility of using use-permit regulations newly revised this summer to lower parking requirements and move the project forward.

Instead, the city planning commission recently adjusted the use-permit that might have fitted the Tuttle Mansion project in by limiting any variation to no more than 10 percent of requirements.

Sam Hales, Saratoga Group CEO, had cited several reasons the business believes the project should be allowed to proceed, including the presence of nearby off-street parking already available for commercial use that could be available during non-business hours, and the anticipation that many renters would be young professionals and tech workers who would not be relying heavily on personal vehicle transportation.

“They often prefer to walk/bike to work and take Uber/Lyft when they need to go further,” Hales said in an August letter to the city.

Hales said Tuesday that Saratoga Group had not been informed about the planning commission decision to limit any use permit variation to no more than 10 percent and needed time to formulate its next step.

Buying or leasing a nearby lot for parking is not an option, he said.

“From my perspective, it doesn’t solve anything if it’s not self-contained,” Hales said.

The Tuttle Mansion is set to rent four apartment units in the historic building the Saratoga Group has recently renovated. The loft plan was to be done in the next phase of the project, offering 550 square-foot accommodation in 16 units at about $1,400 a month, according to plans filed with the city earlier this year.

The lofts would fit the lifestyle of singles or couples but not families, Hales said.

“It’s an opportunity for the city in an area that lacks critical mass,” Hales said. “Auburn has the opportunity to be a very viable place and a lot of people are interested.”

The project itself has never been discussed by the Auburn City Council or the planning commission but council members heard in open session this October from a neighbor who is against the Tuttle Mansion plan.

Melissa Arendt of Reamer Street used public comment period to voice her concerns, saying that she foresaw 50 or 60 vehicles parking at or around Tuttle Mansion if the lofts move forward.

“The density doesn’t seem to fit,” Arendt said. “It’s like putting a square peg in a round hole.”

She added that the scale of the buildings in relation to the Tuttle Mansion was too large.

“Adding two massive buildings to the property seems a bit absurd,” Arendt said. “It’s a money-making venture built on the backs of homeowners.”

For Hales, whose Saratoga Group has developed the Park Victorian in Old Town Auburn as a successful luxury boutique hotel, the loft plan is something that could be groundbreaking for Downtown Auburn and could fit.

“From our perspective, downtown Auburn has the opportunity to be a very liveable place and this is an opportunity for people to live downtown,” Hales said.