AUBURN — The City Council, in a 4-3 decision, tabled a vote Monday that would have put its support behind a new mayor’s committee on agriculture, after representatives from the city’s farming community spoke out against the process.

However, Mayor Jason Levesque told the Sun Journal after the meeting that he will continue his ad-hoc committee as planned. 

Three members of a previous committee that, along with an outside consultant studied Auburn’s agricultural zone, said the city should first act on that group’s recommendations before establishing a new committee. 

The original group recommended establishing a permanent agriculture commission, but Levesque has since moved forward with plans for a different ad-hoc committee. 

At issue is the zoning rules that could eventually impact the zone that accounts for 45 percent of Auburn’s land. While some say the zoning rules are too restrictive to development, others say they are simply outdated and need to be thoughtfully and carefully examined to better meet the needs of farmers and others working in agriculture. 

Many on Monday questioned why the council hasn’t yet taken up the previous committee’s recommendations. 

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The council eventually voted 4-3 to table a vote on Levesque’s committee, even though the mayor has the power to create and appoint a temporary committee. 

Levesque, who is in China, said following the meeting that, “It would seem that some members of the council are confused or simply want to obstruct finding a solution as outlined in the previous report.” 

Joe Gray, who served on the first agriculture committee, said during public comment that the zoning discussion could eventually have a “serious impact on citizens,” and he argued that a temporary mayor’s committee will not be able to carefully review the zoning regulations. 

Levesque’s committee would be asked to create draft ordinances on the current income and minimum land-use requirements in the zone, all within a short time frame. 

The previous committee recommended that the current “50 percent income” rule be changed, but said it should only be changed or replaced in a thoughtful way.

The zoning rule does not permit a new house to be built in the zone unless the landowner has 10 acres and earns at least 50 percent of household income from the land through farming, forestry or resource extraction.

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On Monday, Gray said, “Just looking at certain rules is not a good approach,” adding that a permanent commission could look at all issues in the zone “holistically.” 

“I’m concerned with ad-hoc committees being able to solve the problem in a well-thought out way in a short time frame,” he said. 

Karen Bolduc, a farmer and also a member of the previous committee, said Levesque’s proposal “is not what our committee had in mind,” especially after the consultant’s study cost taxpayers $40,000.

“It is not by any means what we recommended. I see it as a way to end the discussion,” she said.

She urged the council to first act on the committee’s recommendations before considering the mayor’s new committee.

Others, including Kathy Shaw and Dan Herrick, wondered if there was a “hidden agenda” behind the mayor’s decision. Herrick thanked the council for ultimately tabling the vote, and said the previous committee should be asked to go back and resume its work, instead of an all-new committee being formed. 

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“What’s our hurry? Is there an agenda we don’t know about?” he asked. 

At one point, Councilor Belinda Gerry attempted to amend the agenda item to re-establish the previous agriculture committee.

Councilor David Young reminded the council that despite the opposition, “the mayor can create a committee if he wants. If the council wants to (table the vote), it’s not going to kill it or make it go away.” 

“This isn’t what was proposed, but we may get there eventually,” Young said, referring to Levesque’s committee. 

Councilor Bob Hayes said it was clear from the feedback that the council had not “done justice to the committee that’s come before us,” adding “We discourage people from serving on committees” by not accepting what they bring to the council.

“I’d rather see it as a council committee,” he said. “The mayor has showed his cards and what he wants, but that’s not necessarily what’s best.”

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