AUBURN — City officials would like to make it easier for new development near recreational areas — something that residents have opposed but city officials say could attract new people and stabilize businesses. 

Picture condominiums next to a golf course fairway, or a hotel at Lost Valley ski area. 

The City Council on Monday will discuss adopting an ordinance that would open up the possibility for commercial or residential development next to “major recreational uses.” Those areas would be limited to Lost Valley, Prospect Hill Golf Course, Fox Ridge Golf Club and Martindale Country Club.  

An effort in 2012 to adopt a similar ordinance was supported by the Planning Board and staff but was ultimately scrapped by the City Council after a resident of the Martindale neighborhood organized opposition to a hotel project. Traffic was the biggest concern. 

Now, city officials say there is a similar development opportunity at Prospect Hill, where new ownership this year has led to increased activity. 

According to Eric Cousens, deputy director of economic and community development, the city has been looking at ways to ease its zoning restrictions near recreational areas for at least 20 years. 

“We’re pushed to try to create new economic development in the community. This is one of those areas where we think we’re missing out on an opportunity because of our regulations,” he said Friday. 

He said if you look elsewhere in Maine, at well-known ski areas or country clubs, there are countless examples of associated commercial uses like hotels that help the business. He said Prospect Hill would like to offer “accommodations,” whether that’s condominiums or a hotel. 

Auburn is unique in that it doesn’t allow them in the zones where its major recreational uses are located. Most of Auburn’s recreational areas have struggled financially at one point or another, and the new opportunity could help, Cousens said. 

Prospect Hill’s new owner, Fang Cheng Morrow, told the Sun Journal in April that substantial improvements were in the works for the golf course. 

The city’s 2011 comprehensive plan called for considering the ordinance, and neighborhood meetings and Planning Board meetings were held. The rural residential, low-density country residential, and agricultural zones, where each of the major recreational areas are located, are limited when it comes to allowing commercial uses. 

The ordinance proposal has been reintroduced by Councilors Robert Stone and Leroy Walker who favored restarting the discussion, especially as the owners of all four businesses have been in on the discussions. 

Listed under “advantages” in the council agenda packet is “may encourage new recreational investment consistent with the council priority to increase sports and recreational tourism, improve quality of life and increase valuation.” 

During budget talks earlier this year, City Manager Peter Crichton proposed setting funds aside for a recreational tourism study. 

According to Cousens, the ordinance is limited to the four major recreational areas to limit a “misuse” of the ordinance. The city doesn’t want someone buying a small parcel, adding a few disc golf holes, and taking advantage of an ordinance to build a hotel. 

To prevent that, the proposed ordinance defines a major recreational use as a 100-acre or more ski area, or a 100-acre, 18-hole golf course. 

The council will hold a first reading on the issue Monday, and if approved, will most likely head to a public hearing and second reading on Sept. 11. Cousens said the city would send notices to abutters of all four recreational areas when the public hearing is scheduled.

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