Auburn City Council

Monday, Aug. 6

Housing and business activity

What happened: The City Council, with Auburn’s economic development staff,  discussed recent permitting activity that shows positive signs for city growth in various categories, including permit fees collected and projected construction costs.

What it means: Eric Cousens, deputy director of Economic and Community Development, said the total permit value is the highest the city has seen in 10 years, calling it a “challenging year to keep up” for staff, but positive all around.

City Councilor Andrew Titus said he hopes the positive changes will be reflected in next year’s budget in order to benefit taxpayers. He also asked for more reporting of economic development growth in tangible numbers, such as homes built and new families, or tax base or jobs in the commercial sector.

“The whole idea of growth doesn’t help if we don’t get valuation,” he said.

What’s next: Cousens said there is a long list of projects currently in the pipeline that could add “substantial” value to the city. His list is highlighted by a potential project near Exit 75 off Interstate 95, where he said a retail developer with 70 acres is now working on permitting applications.

Plans, and more plans

What happened: The City Council went through its work plan for the next fiscal year, and discussed an upcoming process to create a more long-term strategic plan. The latter was met with criticism from members of the public over the process used so far and lack of public input.

What it means: While the work plan lays out the council’s goals for the next fiscal year, the strategic plan, as currently proposed, would be drafted with the help of a steering committee and eight subcommittees.

City Manager Peter Crichton, speaking remotely via Skype, called the strategic plan idea “a big deal what we’re talking about doing,” but councilors were skeptical of the sheer number of committees and possibility for overlap. Many said the city needs to take a step back, and members of the public, including former councilor Adam Lee, questioned why the City Council wasn’t driving the planning process, rather than a series of subcommittees.

“Why is it preferable to have seven of you export your duties to committees selected by the mayor?” he said.

What’s next: Mayor Jason Levesque said he and Crichton are planning a late September announcement of the process, but it’s unclear how the timeline will be impacted by councilor concerns.

The Ag Zone

What happened: The City Council continued its discussion on how best to ease in development of Auburn’s Agriculture and Resource Protection Zone, and it continues to be a controversial topic.

What it means: No action was taken, but officials debated how best to move forward following the recent study and committee work that recommended a permanent commission be formed.

Levesque presented various ideas for how to move forward, including a rough outline on how much tax revenue could come from developing housing in the zone over the next 10 years.

In response, a number of councilors again took issue with the process, either stating the issue should be sent to the Planning Board, or that the council should only take up specific recommendations previously made by the agricultural zone committee.

Titus urged the council to take up one issue at a time, based on the recommendations.

What’s next: By the end of the discussion, councilors seemed discouraged by a lack of consensus on a variety of issues. Councilor Leroy Walker said “We don’t know if we’re coming or going.” He said if the committee recommended a permanent agricultural commission, “give it to them.”

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