AUBURN — The City Council unanimously approved two measures Monday aimed at encouraging development and rehabilitation in downtown areas.

The zoning ordinance changes will expand a form-based code district known as Traditional Downtown Neighborhood to a swath of the downtown and New Auburn, from Riverside Drive to Ninth Street and parts of Broad and South Main streets.

Officials say the move better fits the character of the neighborhood and will make it easier for building owners to construct additions or renovate.

Form-based code, which is relatively new for Auburn, has been increasingly used nationwide as a way of regulating land development to achieve a specific urban form, and is seen as a way to curb urban sprawl and the deterioration of historic neighborhoods.

According to Eric Cousens, director of planning and permitting, many older buildings closer to the road are considered nonconforming due to setback requirements, which can be an impediment to building rehabilitations.

The zoning language states that the district “is characterized by small to medium-sized buildings with smaller front yards and stoops in a more compact urban environment. The smaller minimum and maximum building setbacks form a moderately dense street-wall pattern, diverse architectural styles and pedestrian friendly streets and sidewalks.”

Mayor Jason Levesque, who has led a recent push to review and amend zoning ordinances to encourage development, said the change will also make it easier for new homes to be built on vacant lots in the zone.

“People don’t want to renovate a nonconforming home,” he said, adding that the change is “part of an overarching plan on housing, in-fill development and creating a vibrant downtown.”

“Form-based code allows a lot of this to happen. It looks good to developers,” he said.

During his recent “State of the City” address, Levesque called for a substantial increase in housing development — some 2,000 single-family homes — over the next five years, while asking officials to remove regulation barriers and encourage in-fill development in the downtown.

In September, the City Council agreed in concept to a six-month process to increase the available housing units in the city, a decision driven by the current housing market.

Also on Monday, the council took the vacant property at 186 Main St. out of the Traditional Downtown Neighborhood district and put it in the Downtown Traditional Center district, which is meant for larger downtown commercial buildings.

Levesque called the property “a significant parcel,” stating the zone allows for taller buildings, which could lead to potential development interest.

During an earlier workshop session, councilors discussed a series of city lots that will also be marketed to potential developers through a request-for-proposals process.

The properties include a lot off Mechanics Row near the municipal parking garage, and 131 Main St., which is free municipal parking.

Officials debated whether a development there would be beneficial, and whether the city could make up the parking elsewhere.

Jay Brenchick, director of economic development, said the city’s municipal garage is not often utilized by the public, and depending on the development, Mechanics Row could be converted to allow street parking.

Councilor Belinda Gerry said she’s “not too cool getting rid of the last open space in the downtown,” which she said is often utilized along with events at Festival Plaza.

Other properties include 261 Main St.; 15 Academy St., across from Community Little Theatre; and the former St. Louis Church.


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