AUBURN — After months of debate, the City Council approved updated zoning language Monday for the city’s Agriculture and Resource Protection Zone, during the final meeting before a new council is sworn in next week.

The rules dictate who can build a home in the city’s largest zone, and relax a decades-old income standard that requires landowners to make a significant portion of household income from farming, forestry or other agricultural uses.

The most significant change lowers the current requirement of gaining 50% of household income from farming to 30%, while still requiring 10-acre parcels in order to build a home. Another section of the ordinance will allow the Planning Board to grant special exceptions for landowners with at least 6.1 acres to build a home, as long as they meet the income requirement and further criteria.

Leading up to the final readings, which were taken in three votes on separate sections, the City Council added a series of amendments based on recommendations that came from the Planning Board last week.

From its start, the issue has been controversial and heavily debated among landowners in the agricultural zone as well as elected officials. City staff spent considerable time writing and re-writing ordinances, often with the help of attorneys.

On Monday, an attorney representing the city said it was their opinion that the council did not have to start the voting process over following the Planning Board’s recommendations, because it was only “clarifying” language.

Each vote was 5-1-1, with Councilor Belinda Gerry opposed and Councilor Leroy Walker abstaining. Walker has previously been asked to abstain due to owning three properties in the zone.

Following the meeting, Levesque sent a statement to the Sun Journal, applauding the ordinance changes and council approval.

“By freeing up more than 40% of our city from restrictive and archaic regulation, this long-awaited and much-needed change to Auburn’s ordinances will bring new economic opportunity to our city as it expands options for property ownership and farming,” Levesque said. “As a strong advocate for this change to be made to our city ordinances, I am very pleased with the council’s vote tonight and I look forward to seeing the positive impact it will undoubtedly have for our city in the years to come.”

Leading up to both votes, significant changes had to be made.

Prior to the first reading last week, during which a vote on one section failed, language was added to exempt the Lake Auburn Watershed Overlay zone from the changes, due to concerns from the Lake Auburn Watershed Protection Commission and others about the possible impacts to water quality from increased development.

During a brief presentation prior to the final readings, Planning Board Chairman Evan Cyr said the recommendations laid out last week were an effort to clarify the “intent” of the ordinances.

One such change was to edit the effective date of the ordinance from Jan. 1, 2018 to Oct. 1, 2017, when the first ad-hoc committee on agriculture was formed.

When voting Monday on the second and third sections of the ordinance, which reference special exceptions for smaller parcels of land, Councilor David Young made a motion to increase the minimum lot size to 6.1 acres from five. He made a similar attempt to amend the ordinance last week (to six acres), but the vote failed. On Monday, it was successful.

He and Councilor Robert Hayes argued that the language should be more clear that it requires a landowner to farm on at least five acres, meaning the parcel would need to be larger in order to build a home.

“Lets be clear. We’ve talked about agriculture, but a lot of this is to allow some residential development,” Hayes said. “If I need six acres to farm and build a house, then we should make that clear. “It’s a curtain we’re sort of hiding behind to allow some more residential.”

Throughout the muddy process, Gerry argued against moving forward with the ordinance changes prior to a new Agriculture Committee being in place.

The council also voted Monday to approve the new committee.

Councilor Andy Titus and Levesque argued that it would be like “starting over” for the new committee and council if the ordinance was not passed Monday.

“There may be things that have to be corrected, but they wouldn’t have to start over,” Titus said, urging the council to pass the ordinance, which could be tweaked later.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to rush,” Councilor Holly Lasagna said. “Five of seven councilors (on the new council) will have been intimately involved with the process all along.”

“I tell you if this is rushed we’d never get anything done in the country,” Levesque responded.

Auburn’s inaugural ceremony for incoming members of the City Council and School Committee is at 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 16, at the Auburn Senior Community Center.


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