Traffic was the main topic of conversation when the Auburn Planning Board considered a proposed Grant Avenue development that includes a Popeyes restaurant.
Engineer Brett Steenburgh and Kevin Parisi of developer Liberty Restaurants presented the project site plan to the board on Tuesday. It would merge six parcels — 121, 135, 139, 143 and 145 Grant Ave., and 9-13 McGarr St. — into three. The first would be a Popeyes and the second another quick-service restaurant, and both would be connected to Grant Avenue by a new access road.
The third plot was originally intended to be a two-story apartment complex. However, Steenburgh told the board that the developer is now considering a temperature-controlled self-storage facility on the 3.1-acre parcel. In addition to attracting less traffic, such an installation would meet a need in the sector, according to market studies. It would still have two floors and contain a freight elevator.
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The three houses, two garages and the commercial warehouse currently on the lots would be demolished.
“We hope to redevelop this and make it better than it would have been or was when these houses were occupied,” Steenburgh said.
The site plan will continue to take shape as Liberty works with the State Department of Transportation on traffic issues. Stephen Selvek, the city’s deputy director of planning and development, said the department’s analysis will be “critical” to the city’s decision on whether the site can support the project. According to department Datathis segment of Grant Avenue is Auburn’s busiest neighborhood.
Steenburgh said he didn’t anticipate Popeyes and the other restaurant, to be determined, would attract much more traffic. Popeyes would have two drive-thru lanes that can accommodate 12 to 14 vehicles, as well as 17 parking spaces, so backups wouldn’t be an issue either. However, Steenburgh continued, traffic patterns and especially turning movements could be altered by the project.
One way Liberty could mitigate those changes is to only allow right turns onto Grant Avenue from the access road, he said. Another possibility is to connect the road to Standart Avenue, and the developer is contacting the neighboring property owner in the hope that this will happen. Liberty also hopes to reduce the number of sidewalk plots on Grant Avenue from the current four.
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“We obviously want to make sure we have everyone’s support,” Parisi said. “We’re pretty confident that we’re going to work on something, but we just don’t know. A lot has to happen to get there.”
Council voted to table the site plan as the developer works to finalize it with the Department of Transportation.
Ahead of the vote, Selvek said council may consider approving the project in phases, beginning with Popeyes, after completing a state environmental quality review for the six plots.
The city wants to welcome new businesses, said board member Crystal Cosentino, but not at the expense of existing businesses.
“That’s what Grant Avenue is for,” she said. “If Popeyes is interested, it’s great that they want to invest in Auburn. But I think we have to make sure we hear people and make sure the city is comfortable with the design, and how the traffic can bypass Grant Avenue, so we don’t cause more headaches because it’s not good for business in general.