Developers explain plans for Auburn’s outdoor theaters site

Auburn City Council invited people to come in Monday night and say their piece about plans afoot to turn the Valley 6 Drive-In Theaters site into a 70-acre, multi-phased, mixed-use residential and retail development, The Auburn Gateway.

But the only party that spoke up during the hearing was Los Angeles-based Robertson Properties Group, the real estate arm of the family that proposes to develop the property it has owned for more than 50 years.

John Manavian, RPG's executive vice president of real estate, design and development, looked around the Council chamber and saw faces on the Council and in the audience he knew when the idea first stirred more than 10 years ago.

"It's been a difficult and interesting project because of the complexity of not only the mixed-use designation, but because we wanted to do the development agreement," Manavian said. "For 70 acres, it's going to take us awhile in phases to be able to do a project like this.

"... All the projects in our portfolio of over 5 million square feet have a Gateway name to it," Manavian said, "and this one to me is truly a Gateway project because it's at the northern boundary of the city, and we really want this to be a special, mixed-used development."

Council members listened but took no action. A vote is expected before the end of the year.

The hearing had been scheduled for Oct. 17, but had to be delayed because the RPG spotted problems in its traffic plan and needed time to address them.

At issue Monday: an ordinance and a master development agreement between RPG and the City of Auburn setting out guidelines for the development of the property.

Council approval would allow the RPG to begin offering about 70 acres of property, that is, the Valley 6 site and several adjacent properties at the city's north end, for office, retail and residential development.

The RPG buys private movie theaters and properties throughout the country and develops them into something different than cinemas.

For years, the City has negotiated with the RPG on future development of the acreage, touching on preparation of an environmental impact statement, changes to the comprehensive plan and zoning code to authorize a mixed-used commercial zone, and preparation of a draft development agreement and a draft planned action ordinance.

The Auburn Gateway Project site plan included in the MDA shows a multi-phased development of 720,000 square feet of retail, 500 residential units and/or up to 1.6 million square feet of office space.

It also calls for an extension of I Street Northeast north to South 277th.

In the development agreement, which lays out development guidelines, the RPG has agreed that the layout and uses of the Auburn Gateway Project will follow these strictures:

• Other than common areas, parking and access, no multiple family residential uses will be allowed on the ground floor of any building but only in upper stories of multi-story buildings.

• It shall contain more full-service, sit-down restaurants than fast food, including drive-thru restaurants

• Gas stations and car repair service and parts business will only be built as part of a larger retail operation.

After the hearing closed, Frank Lonergan, an Auburn locksmith and candidate for City Council, questioned whether the City had given concerned citizens enough notice and enough time to review the revised transportation plan.

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