AUBURN — At the request of Mayor Jason Levesque, city officials will convene Monday to continue deliberations over controversial changes to the agricultural zone.

Levesque said Friday that the meeting, which he announced this week during a workshop on the same topic, will hopefully mark “the beginning of the end” of an effort to modernize the zone, as he called on city councilors to “do their job.”

The city charter gives the mayor the authority to call a special meeting.

Many landowners in the zone and other elected officials have expressed reservations about the changes, or have argued that the city should not act until a new agricultural advisory board is in place, or a Bates College survey of landowners is complete.

Many have pointed to the opinions of the Planning Board, Conservation Commission and the city’s legal review, all of which identified potential pitfalls in the ordinance language.

Levesque is hoping the workshop, with a presentation led by City Manager Peter Crichton and other city staff, will help officials arrive at a “final product” for the ordinance, which has been in place since the 1960s.

Since then, zoning laws have stipulated that in order to build a new home in the zone, a property owner must own at least 10 acres and earn 50 percent of household income from agriculture or forestry, a threshold that has become increasingly difficult to meet. While most agree the rules should be changed, officials and residents are split on how.

The proposal as it stands would replace the “50 percent income” rule by requiring landowners to meet at least two of five criteria to meet the definition of a farmer.

During this week’s workshop, Levesque said the rules would maintain the 10-acre minimum lot size, but would create a provision to grandfather lots between 3 and 10 acres that were in place prior to Jan. 1, 2018. Levesque said that provision would apply to 10 developable parcels in the zone, allowing landowners to build accessory dwellings.

“The only reason we’re modernizing this is to increase farming as an economic sector,” he said Friday. “We’re not here to do cul-de-sacs.”

Levesque admitted Friday that the draft ordinance is “by no means perfect,” adding, “the draft as is right now should not pass.” He called the meeting, he said, for the council to work toward a final draft.

In response to concerns over how the changes could alter the zone, including whether it would lead to much higher property taxes for farmers, Levesque said there is a “fear factor” among some landowners and that “there has been no policy suggestions from other groups as an alternative.”

During the previous council workshop, one landowner said she was concerned the higher taxes will force her from her property. She said she operates a small farm, much like what Levesque has said the new rules would promote.

She was among the few residents who spoke out against the proposal, asking the council to “proceed with caution.”

Crichton said Monday’s workshop will feature more input from city staff.

“Staff, up until this point, have not really provided information on this issue, and I think it’s time for us to do that,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be helpful to the council as they deliberate over what action they want to take regarding the proposed amendments.”

According to Crichton, the presentation will include “questions for the council to think about,” including their goals for the agricultural zone.

“What do they want to see happen, and what do they want to avoid?” he said.

Levesque and Crichton both said Friday there has not been a timeline established for moving the ordinance to a first reading by the council.

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