AUBURN — City officials approved updates to the comprehensive plan this week that could reshape zoning and density limits in most of Auburn.

Mayor Jason Levesque said officials are expected to begin considering the changes in 2022.

After the City Council voted 6-1 on Monday to approve the updates, Levesque called the plan among the most comprehensive and progressive that has been adopted in the state.

He said the plan’s main themes mirror those listed by a recent Maine legislative committee on housing, which looked for ways to combat the state’s housing shortage. They include providing more flexibility to allow for a more diverse housing stock and ensuring more equitable access to all housing types.

“We’re way ahead of anyone else in the state,” Levesque said. “We’re ahead of the game and making huge strides to combat the housing shortage that’s gripping the state of Maine.”

In Auburn, the Comprehensive Plan now suggests reducing the number of distinct zones to 10 from more than 20, and increasing density limits in the majority of zones, especially in areas that already have public utilities.

The plan’s approval, however, does not mean all of its recommendations suddenly become law in the city.

Levesque said Wednesday that in the coming year, the new City Council will begin considering amended zoning ordinances based on the recommendations in the plan, starting in the downtown districts and moving outward.

“The Planning Board is going to be very busy,” he said, adding city staff members will prioritize based on current investment interest.

Levesque said he would like to see the majority of downtown changes, with a focus on allowing more in-fill development, in place by April. He said there are two potential developments in the pipeline looking to build a mix of condominiums, single-family homes and duplexes in “a current urban setting” in Auburn.

The new City Council, including four new councilors, is scheduled to be sworn in Monday.

The updated plan was approved on the same night that saw a big resident turnout opposed to an expansion of residential strip zones in Auburn’s rural areas, which would have made more land eligible for building. Part of the opposition came from questions over the impact to the Lake Auburn watershed, which was the subject of a recent study that recommends against additional housing density in the surrounding watershed.

While the council voted to indefinitely postpone the vote on strip zoning, Levesque said the postponement only lasts until the end of the current council session, or until the proposal is significantly changed. When asked Wednesday whether the City Council would take up the issue again in 2022, Levesque said it is not likely.

“The (comprehensive plan) takes priority,” he said.

Leading up to the council’s approval of the plan updates, the Planning Board offered amendments to the sections pertaining to the watershed.

Eric Cousens, director of planning and permitting, said the Planning Board had concerns that the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee did not have the Lake Auburn study available when it made its recommendations and the board recommended, “delaying any changes that would recommend increasing density in the watershed until that’s given consideration.”

He said after reviewing the lake study, officials can then consider whether to reduce the minimum lot size in the residential strips in the watershed, as was proposed initially in the plan.

Rather than embarking on a complete rewrite of the 2010 comprehensive plan, the City Council opted to pursue updates to three sections: recreation and open space, transportation and future land use and zoning.

The plan also includes a new section on promoting food access and increasing Auburn’s agriculture economy.

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