AUBURN — The City Council indefinitely postponed a proposal Monday night to expand residential strip zones in Auburn after several residents spoke in opposition to it.

The move to expand the size of the strip zones, aimed at creating more buildable area for residential development in the affected neighborhoods, has been debated during a series of public meetings since last summer.

Residents opposed to the change led the Planning Board to recommend against the proposal in November, but city councilors were expected to hold a vote Monday. But after a continuous line of residents took to the public comment podium to speak against the change, Councilor Belinda Gerry made a motion to postpone the item indefinitely.

The 4-3 vote was backed by Councilors Holly Lasagna, Katie Boss, Tim MacLeod and Gerry.

The city has a number of residential strips, primarily in northern and southern areas of Auburn that split parcels of land between two zoning districts. Most property owners along the strips have a residence in the front of the property located in a residential zone, with the back portion of the property in the agricultural zone.

The change would have increased the depth of the strips to 750 feet from 450 feet, taking some 1,000 acres from the agricultural zone and moving it into residential.

Residents in the affected areas said the change would increase taxes with no benefit for the majority of affected property owners, take away important recreational and agricultural land and put the Lake Auburn watershed at increased risk.

Mayor Jason Levesque, who has strongly supported the move, has said the change would allow for more residential uses at a time when a housing shortage is impacting most of Maine. In response to resident concerns Monday, Levesque said, the changing of zoning “does not place houses in your backyard. Only you can do that.”

The proposal was one piece of several recent initiatives aimed at expanding new housing options in the city, from allowing accessory dwelling units to expanded form-based code. Later on Monday, the City Council was set to vote on an updated section of Auburn’s Comprehensive Plan related to zoning, which, if approved, would recommend the city streamline its current zones and increase density limits in almost all.

According to a council memorandum, if the strip zones were expanded, it would impact roughly 1,100 acres, but only 300 to 700 acres would be available for development, if desired by individual landowners. With an average lot size of 1.75 acres in the area, it would have led to between 171 and 400 potential lots, according to the memorandum.

Levesque has also argued that loosening the tight rules in Auburn’s large agricultural zone is a matter of creating more equitable access to various housing options.

Several residents said Monday the city’s focus on growth “shouldn’t come at the expense of current residents.”

Cynthia Alexander said she would be faced with increased taxes, even though she would not be interested in pursuing an accessory dwelling at any time. She said she purchased the land because she “valued privacy.”

Others said the move is taking away open space and farmland at a time when they are valued and sought.

“What the city values is different from what residents value,” said Kathy Shaw, an Auburn farmer.

Dan Herrick, who owns a large tract of land in the agricultural zone, said the city is slowly “squeezing out (agricultural) areas.”

He said people are constantly asking his permission to use his property for snowmobiling, hunting, or just walking the fields.

“It’s the beauty of the open space that people enjoy,” Herrick said.

Sid Hazelton, superintendent of the Auburn Water District, also said he was opposed to the change due to its proposed impact on the Lake Auburn watershed overlay district. He said the recent lake study and recommendations regarding zone changes in areas around the lake are reason enough to vote against it.

During his comments, Levesque questioned whether Hazelton was speaking as a resident or in an official capacity as a representative of the water district. After being cut off, Hazelton responded, “Not what you wanted to hear, huh?”

After the exchange, another resident stood up and said, “I’m embarrassed for this city.”

Monday’s meeting was the final meeting for Councilors Lasagna, Boss, MacLeod and Carrier, with Auburn’s inauguration set for next week.


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