AUBURN — The City Council gave initial approval to rezone a large swath of land off Gracelawn Road on Monday that officials say should not be considered to be in the Lake Auburn watershed, but a number of residents were not convinced that future development activity in the area would not impact water quality.

Joan Wenzel, a resident of Auburn, was one of several concerned residents who spoke Monday night in opposition to a proposed ordinance amending the zoning in the Gracelawn Road area during an Auburn Council meeting Monday night. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

In a 4-3 first reading vote, the council approved the change that will take 148 acres out of the Agricultural Zone and move it into General Business, which allows for a range of commercial and residential uses.

The at-times heated debate Monday showcased rising questions over a larger citywide effort to shift zoning in a majority of the city. While officials say Auburn is leading a statewide effort to increase housing opportunities, it is also bringing up lingering questions about the health of Lake Auburn, which is the public drinking water source for Lewiston and Auburn.

City staff has said that recent data, which was analyzed by consultants behind the recent study of Lake Auburn, shows that storm water runoff from the land in question does not drain into the lake, meaning it should not be considered part of the watershed.

However, several residents questioned the data, arguing that the city should not be moving to develop land so close to the watershed at a time when the lake is deemed “fragile.”

Several residents Monday cited the recent lake study, which opposed expanding development in the immediate watershed. However, Mayor Jason Levesque said the land, which features a gravel pit that has been mined for decades, has not been in the watershed.


“This is just confirming what the reality is,” he said.

Joan Wenzel, an Auburn resident, questioned why there was a push to rezone the area and who would be benefiting from it.

“Are the desires of developers more important than protecting our water source?” she said.

Councilor Rick Whiting, who voted against the change, said the city should obtain more recent hydro-geological data of the area in order for officials to make “an informed decision.”

He said there’s a “trust issue” between city officials and residents, and that the city should have held a public meeting where residents could ask questions about the recent lake study.

Auburn resident Peter Dingley told officials that after spending some $100,000 on the watershed study, “right off the bat you want to take 150 acres out of it and develop it.”


“That to me is exactly the opposite of what (the study) told us,” he said.

Eric Cousens, director of planning and permitting, said city data shows that “surface runoff doesn’t make it to Lake Auburn. He also said that any development of the site would likely “provide cleaner storm water than the site as of now.”

Auburn mayor Jason Levesque responds to a question Monday night from one of several citizens from Auburn voicing their concerns in opposition to adjusting the Lake Auburn Watershed Overlay District Map. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Councilor Stephen Milks, who voted to approve the change, said he’s also “very concerned that we maintain the integrity of the lake,” but said the city should be updating and modernizing its handling of storm water.

Milks, who serves on the Auburn Water District Board of Trustees, said the “science does justify taking a look at it,” and that any development would “improve the tax burden” for residents.”

When asked, he said the board of trustees has not discussed the rezoning proposal because “the land is not part of the watershed.”

The council also voted unanimously Monday on updates to its phosphorus control ordinance in the watershed, which requires any new development to submit “a phosphorus control plan and maintenance provisions” required by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

When the proposed changes were first forwarded to the Planning Board, Levesque told the Sun Journal that some were tied to specific development interests. 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,” he said.

The council will likely take up a final reading March 21.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.