The former Evergreen Subaru at Center Street, foreground, and Joline Drive, left, in Auburn, is where the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office hopes to move. The City Council voted 5-1 Tuesday night to approve a six-month moratorium on development proposals for new public safety facilities. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

AUBURN — The City Council on Tuesday approved a six-month moratorium that will hit the pause button on plans for a new Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office on Center Street.

In a 5-1 vote on a first reading, the council signed off on the moratorium on development proposals involving public safety facilities, detention facilities or correctional facilities “at a site on which one currently does not exist.”

The move from city officials came in response to news that the Androscoggin County Commission had approved $4.52 million to purchase the former Evergreen Subaru property at 774 Center St. as the new home for the department.

Mayor Jason Levesque said reading the Sun Journal’s coverage was the first city officials had heard of the plan, and a day later, City Manager Phil Crowell issued a news release announcing the moratorium.

Prior to the vote Tuesday, Crowell said the city’s zoning ordinances do not adequately address facilities like those needed by the Sheriff’s Office, as Auburn has not had to consider such new facilities for over 50 years. He said the moratorium was not based on the belief that the department doesn’t need or deserve more space, but rather in response to concerns over “legitimate impacts on nearby businesses.”

Crowell and Levesque said the city had received considerable public concerns following the commission’s decision.


The conflict also appears to be partly a communication breakdown. According to Sheriff Eric Samson, who spoke briefly Tuesday, the plan to move the sheriff’s office to Center Street does not include plans to relocate the jail to the property as well. However, Samson had previously told the Sun Journal that he hopes to move the jail to the new location in the future.

Samson told the council he is hopeful that Harriman, the engineering firm working with the county on the project, can work with the city to address concerns.

Levesque told Samson that if the two sides had discussed the county’s plans prior to an “announcement to the public, this probably would’ve been avoided.”

When Samson said, “we’re always a phone call away,” Levesque responded, “Yes, you are.”

Prior to the meeting, Levesque said he’s heard an “amazing outcry” from potential abutters about the proposal, and city officials are concerned about the long-term use in the area at a time when new zoning is being considered citywide.

“Auburn is in the middle of the most transformational zoning reform in Maine’s history,” he said. “We pride ourselves on having a transparent process and the same process needs to be applied to any future sheriff’s office and/or jail that might be located in the gateway of our city.”


He said six months will “allow us to work with the Sheriff’s Office, which absolutely deserves better working conditions, but also the business community and abutters of that property.”

Dana Staples, the councilor opposed to the moratorium, argued the language was hypocritical because  the city plans its own new public safety building.

“As a councilor, it doesn’t make sense to make rules for one body that doesn’t apply to us,” he said.

Staples’ motion to strike language that states “at a site on which (a facility) currently does not exist” from the moratorium failed.

Levesque disagreed, stating that the city’s plan to relocate the Police Department to a new joint headquarters on Minot Avenue began the public vetting process more than a year ago.

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