AUBURN — Officials are moving ahead with an effort to sell half a dozen properties, including one marked as a prime redevelopment site. 

The City Council will vote Monday to allow staff to put six more tax-acquired properties on the market, a few days after a public outcry led councilors to vote against rezoning a Main Street waterfront property officials hoped would lure a developer. 

As more properties could go on the market, city staff will have to re-examine the redevelopment effort at 186 Main St., a 0.13-acre lot that’s considered attractive because of its views of the Androscoggin River. 

A zone change would have allowed a taller building and reduced setbacks from the road, but a passionate last-minute charge from neighbors during a public hearing Monday ultimately shot it down. 

At one point, Mayor Jason Levesque stopped taking public comment. 

Eric Cousens, deputy director of economic and community development, said the zone change was an attempt to “encourage a proposal” at the site, but that meant a change that would have allowed a four-story development. 

A year ago, the council directed staff to shop out the Main Street parcel — and other city properties — with a request for proposals. According to Cousens, the goal was to attract “a developer that would build a mixed-use building that would complement the downtown and maximize taxable value on the lot.” 

The property is in the Traditional Downtown Neighborhood zone, which allows a maximum of three stories with an attic. It lies at the edge of the Downtown Traditional Center zone, which ups the height limit to four stories with an attic and uses form-based code requirements. 

Cousens said Friday that the city is unaware of a willing developer, but said that through the request for proposals process, staff learned that the maximum number of floors allowed in the zone “was limiting the development to a height that was not feasible economically for one potential development.” 

The Planning Board forwarded to the council a unanimous recommendation in favor of the change to the Downtown Traditional Center. 

But, at the public hearing Monday, people said a four-story development would block water views and could impact plans for pedestrian amenities that have been in the works for years. 

Peter Rubins and David Rogers were among those who spoke Monday. Together the pair has restored nearby historic buildings, which include the Edward Little House at 217 Main St., the Garcelon House at 223 Main St. and the Hasty House at 201 Main St.   

According to Rubins, Rogers was involved in city planning efforts in the late 1990s, which showed “the Waterfront district with views of the water and parks rather than new three- or four-story buildings.”

“Parking is an issue already in that area and it is also a flood zone,” he said in an email Friday. “Ideas of a pathway from the walking trail up to the Edward Little House with a stairway to Main Street in that lot have been on the drawing board for years.”

Cousens said city officials heard “loud and clear” on Monday “that a pedestrian connection between Main Street and the riverwalk is desired as part of any future development.” 

He also said, “It is still possible that a developer might find a design that is feasible with only three stories or less.” 

Also speaking out against the change on Monday were Kathryn Begg, Jim Tierney and Bob Grieshaber.

Due to the concerns, the council ultimately voted 5-2 against the proposal, with Councilors Leroy Walker and Alfreda Fournier voting in favor.  

Levesque said this week that the council was surprised by the reaction, given the Planning Board recommendation and successful first reading by the council. He admitted he took “a hard line” stance in favor of the zone change and that it caused some “fireworks” during the meeting. 

“We have to promote growth in our downtown,” he said. “We have to tell developers that we want market-rate downtown housing.” 

He told the neighbors that a three-story development, which is allowed there, would also block their views of the river. 

Levesque also said it led to a “good, healthy debate” among the councilors. At one point, residents in the audience called out “point of order” when Levesque limited additional public comment. 

With City Council approval, the new properties that could potentially go on the market are all relatively small, single-family house lots. The most significant of them, a nearly 7-acre lot at Hackett Road and Broad Street, needs environmental cleanup.

A committee that looks at city-acquired properties recommended Auburn keep three of them to be used by the Recreation Department, but the council will ultimately decide Monday on how to move forward.

If the council goes against the recommendation, according to a memo, it could decide to lump the three abutting parcels on Gamage Avenue and Hampshire Street together “for maximum development potential.”

Cousens said that if the council votes to sell some — or all — of the properties they would then be marketed for sale. He said there are no buyers or proposals for the parcels. 

“We are aggressively trying to inventory and bring in chunks (of property) every month to dispose of,” he said. “More tax relief for everyone.” 

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Auburn officials are hoping a waterfront parcel at 186 Main St. will be redeveloped, but neighbors effectively stopped a rezoning effort earlier this week that staff argued would have made it easier to sell. (City of Auburn photo)

The City Council will vote Monday to authorize the sale of these properties:

• Hackett Road, 6.9 acres 

• 10 Lucille St., 0.23 acres 

• 73 Paul St., 0.23 acres 

• 1 Gamage Ave., 0.18 acres* 

• 5 Gamage Ave., 0.12 acres* 

• 143 Hampshire St., 0.47 acres* 

* These three lots could be combined for development. 


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