AUBURN — The yearslong process to overhaul the city’s Agriculture and Resource Protection zone will continue on for at least a few more weeks.

During a lengthy City Council meeting Monday marked by confusion and disagreements over incomplete ordinance language and questions over the potential impact to Lake Auburn, officials tabled a vote on amendments designed to update the zone.

Broken up into three sections with separate votes, the council’s first vote failed 4-3, and after considerable debate on the other two parts of the ordinance, the council tabled both remaining votes until Dec. 2.

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.

After months of debate, city staff and elected officials moved forward with a concept to lower the income standard in order to potentially allow more people to reach the threshold. As of now, the ordinance would lower the requirement to 30% of household income, or 30% of Auburn’s median household income, a number that some officials questioned Monday prior to the vote.

According to a city memo, the median Auburn household income is $46,976, meaning lots that generate at least $14,073 would qualify.

Councilor Holly Lasagna, who had originally suggested the number as a possibility during a previous workshop, said the city has not done any substantive research into whether that specific income threshold could help more farmers live on their land.

“I feel like I threw that number out there,” she said. “It’s another thing that was thrown out there and now we’re making important decisions based on it.”

The concept originally proposed by staff — described by City Manager Peter Crichton as an “incremental” step — was dropping the standard to 40%.

During an earlier workshop, the process was also muddied further by recommendations from the city’s attorney to update the ordinance language. Some called on the council to table the later vote based on last-minute confusion.

Adding to it was a formal request from the Lake Auburn Watershed Protection Commission that the updated ordinance exclude the Lake Auburn Watershed Overlay district, which is part of the agricultural zone.

Jim Pross, a former Auburn councilor and legal representation for the Lake Auburn Watershed Protection Commission, said the current conditions of the overlay district are needed for maintaining the city’s public water supply.

“The standards you’re considering, if it does not exclude the watershed, it puts the water at risk from associated development,” he said, adding that the changes would also “undermine” 30 years of work the commission has put in to protect the land surrounding the lake.

In April, the commission adopted a resolution opposing the agricultural zone amendments, stating they would threaten harm to the lake.

A number of people spoke asking the council to either make an amendment to exempt the watershed, or table the votes.

Camille Parish, a resident and Bates College professor, urged the council to “not pass first reading tonight,” calling the vote hasty after just seeing updated language.

Mary Costigan, the city’s legal representation, suggested the city make updates to the watershed overlay district separately, and continue on with votes on the agricultural zone ordinances with the assumption that the council would take up the watershed issue in a later vote. However, councilors were not on board.

“I’m very reluctant passing something tonight, until we have that in writing,” Councilor Bob Hayes said.

“We have a real problem here,” Councilor Andy Titus said. “I don’t know what we can do with this tonight.”

Titus said councilors had previously requested that the watershed overlay district be looked at in the ordinance language, and said he was “disturbed” that language dealing with it was not included.

When Mayor Jason Levesque said the issue had been brought in at the “11th hour,” several members of the audience shouted, “April!” referring to the watershed protection commission’s resolve.

The council voted 6-1 and 5-0-1, respectively, on the tabling motions, with Councilor Leroy Walker abstaining on the third vote.

Walker owns three parcels in the agricultural zone, and Councilor Hayes has previously pushed for Walker to abstain from voting on the section of the ordinance dealing 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.

Asked Monday, Walker said two of his three parcels are at least 5 acres, but that he takes exception to questions over his intentions with the land.

“I’ve been a part of south Auburn all my life. I understand the (agricultural) zone,” he said, adding that he bought the properties “understanding I could not build on them.”

He said he and his son bought the properties to use for recreation.

Previous iterations had proposed allowing anyone with between three and 10 acres to be eligible for a special exception.

The council is set to take up the issue again Dec. 2, which will also feature a first reading to establish a coinciding Agriculture Committee. 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.

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