AUBURN — A proposed development incentive program would eliminate building permit fees for veterans, and cut commercial building fees in half.

A first reading on the proposal passed unanimously last week, and city officials see the change as a continuation of efforts to encourage housing development and building rehabilitation in Auburn.

If approved by the City Council next week, the ordinance changes would eliminate residential construction and rehabilitation permitting fees for veterans, widowers of veterans, or contractors working on behalf of veterans. Fees for commercial construction would also receive a 50% reduction.

City administration believes the incentive is the first of its kind in Maine.

“This is definitely unique, and I think a very beneficial program that will help Auburn in its quest to rehabilitate and attract new residents,” Mayor Jason Levesque said last week.

The ordinance passed 7-0 in a first reading and will receive a final reading Monday.

Brian Wood, deputy city manager, said Wednesday that he “has not come across” any other municipality that has structured a program in the same way, through targeting permitting fees.

Wood said he sees the change as “one piece of a broader effort” to encourage growth and provide incentives to attract new residents. He said officials have also been looking at how to encourage current residents to stay, and in response to the state’s housing crunch, make it easier for people to transition into different forms of housing.

Maine also has a high percentage residents with military service, making the program “seem like a natural fit,” Wood said.

In his recent “state of the city” address, Mayor Levesque called for a dramatic increase in housing development, stating that Auburn could accommodate 2,000 new single-family homes, or an additional 6,000 residents over the next five to seven years.

Since then, the City Council has passed a series of zoning amendments, including expanding form-based code, in order to encourage building rehabilitation and infill development in vacant city lots.

“I’m looking forward to the City Council’s second and final vote on the veteran permit exemption ordinance I introduced several months ago,” Levesque said Wednesday. “This goes beyond being veteran-friendly, this is part of an ongoing effort to bring more veterans, whether they are retired or still servicing in the National Guard or reserves, to our city. Our community will be stronger with them living, working and investing here.”

According to the proposal, veterans seeking to build housing or to rehabilitate an existing property will have all fees waived or reimbursed at the time of permit approval. The exemption applies to owner-occupied single-family and multifamily properties up to three units.

The exemption does not apply to state fees administered by the city.

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