AUBURN — Councilors will take their time reviewing proposed zoning rule changes that could allow city golf courses, ski areas and other major recreation areas to build hotels, shops and other kinds of developments on site.
The council tentatively set a public hearing for May 21 on the change proposed by Martindale Golf Club owner Jim Day.
Councilors would need to approve the change at two public hearings for it to pass. Councilor Robert Hayes suggested they take their time in the process, accept public comment May 21 and host at least one more workshop to discuss the matter before bringing it back for a final vote.
"I have not heard anyone here tonight say they are eager to quickly approve this," Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said. "I'm hearing lots of questions. Let's get additional information, but get public input and come back to the council."
The rule change would let developers apply to create planned unit development for recreation and residential uses on top of existing zoning codes anywhere in the city, including residential areas and the city's Agriculture Zone. The developments would have to be tied to major recreation areas larger than 100 acres and would need to be on the city sewer system.
Economic Development Director Roland Miller said the change is not tied to any one development even though it's being brought up by Day. Two previously proposed recreation developments failed when they couldn't meet Auburn's zoning requirements. Day approached Miller last year, asking what it would take to get a development approved.
"We have developed an internal rule, when something comes up three times, we need to address it from a public perspective," Miller said.
Councilors sent Miller and interim Planning Director Eric Cousens back to work to gather lists of similar recreation developers around Maine and around the country, maps of abutting property around Martindale and tables of lots in the city that could use this type of zoning program.
LaBonte said he wanted to make sure the proposal was not so specific that it only would work for golf course or ski area developments.
"What are the top assets we have, and where might we want to create investment opportunities for the private sector to work with us and how can we engage with neighbors to move forward," LaBonte said. "This seems to be targeted on one project, and it seems to be missing an understanding of the context of other places."
And Councilor Mary Lafontaine said she wanted assurances that neighbors of the any proposed development — and specifically Martindale neighbors — had a say drafting the new rules.
"I know we do not create ordinances with everyone getting input, but I guess I'd like to hear more about why the neighbors' suggestions were not included," she said.