AUBURN — After months of debate and shifting proposals, the City Council is set to vote Monday on controversial updates to the city’s Agriculture and Resource Protection zone.

Workshops on the issue, which have at times confounded city officials, led to the council mostly agreeing Nov. 4 on a path forward by using a concept developed by city staff.

The discussion in Auburn over modernizing the zone has focused on zoning laws that stipulate that in order to build a new home, 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.

Previous proposals spearheaded by Mayor Jason Levesque have split the council and those that live in the zone, causing some to question whether the updates are meant to help farmers and agriculture or simply allow housing development.

The concept recently proposed by staff — described by City Manager Peter Crichton as an “incremental” step — would drop the household income requirement from 50% to 40% of household income, or 40 percent of median household income for the city, whichever is less.

Due to the reaction from councilors in early November, that threshold has been dropped again, and the Council will vote Monday on changes that would put the requirement at 30% of household income, or 30% of Auburn’s median household income.

The number was dropped after Councilor Andy Titus said that only shifting the requirement to 40% is like “sticking with the status quo,” and other officials agreed. Some said the income requirement could be tested for a period, and ultimately changed based on what occurs.

Crichton said the move was intended to loosen restrictions without causing unintended consequences.

Another section of the ordinance deals with special exceptions for parcels under 10 acres. The amended ordinance would allow anyone owning at least five acres to request a special exception from the Planning Board, as long as the property owner met the new income standard.

After the council loosely agreed on moving forward with the lowered income requirement, Levesque said the council would likely vote on the proposal in the coming weeks.

The council will take up first reading Monday, followed by a first reading to establish a coinciding Agriculture Committee the following Monday. A second reading for both the ordinance and committee would be held Dec. 9.

The new Agriculture Committee would also make recommendations on special exceptions, based on a list of criteria, including that the applicant provide a feasible farm business plan.

While a municipal election has taken place since the last city discussion on the issue, Levesque has previously said the current councilors would vote on the proposal prior to new councilors being sworn in. Four of the seven council seats will see new members.

“We owe it to the incoming council to solve this so that they don’t have to repeat everything,” he said Friday. “Auburn is a city of careful deliberation and decisive action. The time for the latter is at hand.”

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