AUBURN — The new City Council this week picked up where the previous one left off, forwarding a number of zoning change proposals meant to drive new development.

Mayor Jason Levesque said Wednesday that if approved, the changes would likely lead to significant development opportunities, including perhaps some of the “biggest projects done in a decade in Auburn.”

The proposals include 148 acres off Gracelawn Road that would move from the agriculture and resource protection zone to a commercial development district; more than 700 acres off Washington Street that would become a “gateway district” using form-based code, a means of regulating land development to achieve a specific urban form; and an expansion of the city’s “core urban residential area” stemming from Court Street that would impact some 1,600 acres.

Also in play will be a discussion about updating the city’s septic design standard for housing within the Lake Auburn watershed, part of the larger debate over how to move forward with watershed regulations following the release of a report late last year.

Each proposal is tied to the updated Comprehensive Plan approved by the council last year at the end of its term. During his inaugural address, Levesque said his third term would continue a focus on adding to Auburn’s housing stock, a year after he called for 2,000 more units by 2025 to address a regional and statewide housing shortage.

City staff said this week that some of what Auburn has done already to urge new housing — like expanding form-based code and allowing for secondary dwelling units in most zones — has been recommended by a state commission on housing, putting Auburn “ahead of the game.”


The council voted unanimously Monday to send the four proposals to the Planning Board for consideration, which sets up a timeline of meetings and public hearings into February and March between the two bodies. But the effort won’t likely end there.

Auburn is considering zoning amendments in parts of the city, including this section of Court Street seen Wednesday Auburn Middle School and Park Avenue. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

According to a memo from Eric Cousens, director of Planning and Permitting, staff and the Planning Board don’t have the capacity to consider all the recommended Comprehensive Plan changes at once, but said “we plan an ambitious effort to have changes under consideration going forward.”

Levesque said the first four were prioritized based on encouraging new development starting in the city’s urban core and moving outward. He also said there’s “a level of new development sitting on the table that can’t go forward without this being made.”

Interest from developers has mostly been for residential, he said, but also for recreation and business. He said the Gracelawn area, for example, could include a mix of retail, residential and recreation opportunities in an area that lies adjacent to “a fast-growing and desirable neighborhood.”

A large swath of the land in question had historically been considered part of the Lake Auburn watershed boundary, but the recent study recommended moving the boundary out based on years of use as a gravel pit. Cousens said the study found that stormwater from the area is no longer entering the watershed.

The proposed change to the Court Street district would essentially rename the urban residential zone to traditional neighborhood development district, which according to the memo, would “allow for the development of a wide range of residential and community uses at a density of up to 16 units per acre in areas that are served” by public utilities.


It’s considered the city’s “core urban residential area,” featuring sections of Court, Lake and Turner streets; and Park, Western and Gamage avenues. Levesque said the changes, similar to an expansion of form-based code in the downtown earlier this year, are meant to give homeowners more options for remodeling, renovating or adding accessory dwellings.

The Planning Board will review the proposed language starting in February, forwarding recommendations to the council as it goes.

In December, the City Council indefinitely postponed a vote to expand residential strip zones in the city after significant public response and the Planning Board recommending against it.

Levesque said Monday that there are three openings for Planning Board members.

The city of Auburn is considering zoning amendments in large parts of the city, including this section of Court Street between the top of Goff Hill, left and Western Avenue, right, in this panoramic photo taken Wednesday morning. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

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