John Cleveland delivers a stack of petition forms containing 2,437 signatures Wednesday to Auburn City Clerk Susan Clements-Dallaire at Auburn Hall. Cleveland, one of five petitioners for the group Citizens for Sensible Growth, helped collect signatures of residents who would like a recently passed zoning law be put to a public vote. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

AUBURN — The group behind a petition effort aimed at repealing a new form of zoning in the Court Street residential area submitted more than 2,400 signatures to the City Clerk’s Office on Wednesday.

With the signatures now filed, the zoning known as “traditional downtown neighborhood,” or T-4.2, is suspended. Once the required number of signatures is validated by the clerk’s office, the City Council will have 30 days to either repeal the zoning or set a date for a citywide referendum.

The filing was the culmination of an effort that began in early April after the City Council rezoned a large section of the city’s core residential area, including sections of Court, Lake and Turner streets, and Park, Western and Gamage avenues. The form-based code allows for a broader mix of housing types and commercial uses.

The rezoning and the city’s overall effort to encourage housing growth has set off a passionate debate that has included fierce opposition from residents concerned that the changes will alter the character of historically single-family neighborhoods. Officials in favor of the changes have argued that the type of zoning gives more flexibility to property owners.

According to John Cleveland, one of the organizers of the effort named Citizens for Sensible Growth, the group submitted 2,437 signatures on 119 petition forms. The petitioners’ committee had 90 days to collect 1,648 signatures, with the signatures due by 4 p.m. Thursday.

Cleveland said the petitions were signed by “citizens from across the city representing all five city wards, including voters registered in both major political parties and independent voters.”


With the zoning ordinance suspended, the Planning Board and planning staff can no longer process applications related to the zone.

A stack of petition forms are submitted Wednesday at Auburn Hall. The group Citizens for Sensible Growth collected 2,437 signatures of residents who would like a recently passed zoning law be put to a public vote. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“What we heard from everyone who signed the petitions is they ‘want to exercise their democratic right to be heard and to vote on this zoning change,'” Cleveland said.

However, Mayor Jason Levesque said Wednesday that he doesn’t believe the question will go as far as a referendum because the council will likely take action this month.

He said from even before the petition was circulating, city officials planned to eventually repeal and replace the zoning with an amended version, based on public feedback. He said the council is slated to take a first reading on the amended zoning, known as T-4.2B, at its July 18 meeting. At a second reading on Aug. 1, the council would repeal the previous version and apply the new version to the Court Street area.

The proposed T-4.2B zone attempts to address previous public concern by limiting the types and sizes of businesses allowed. The zoning wouldn’t allow marijuana businesses, drive-through businesses, or restaurants or other retail over a certain size. However, the Planning Board recently heard several comments from residents unsatisfied with the proposed changes, including the allowed size and scope of buildings.

Levesque said, “It was always our plan” to make changes to the ordinance, and that even if the group never began the petition effort, “we’d still be repealing and replacing it.”


He said while the group fears large-scale multiunit housing, the petition effort instead will have the “unfortunate” effect of halting many inquiries the city has received from residents looking to make smaller changes to lots that were previously considered nonconforming. He said that includes questions about adding a pool, an addition or porch.

“It’s too bad the shortsightedness of this petition group is stopping the people of Auburn from investing in their homes,” he said.

John Cleveland arrives Wednesday at Auburn Hall with signed petitions that request a recently passed zoning law be put to a public vote. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Cleveland said through his many conversations with residents going door to door, “people were enthusiastic and thankful that we initiated the process.”

“Almost all were very happy to sign, and all made it clear that they wanted to have a voice in the process going on across the city,” he said.

Asked about the upcoming City Council discussions on replacing the zoning, Cleveland said, “I think the public would be very angry if they would turn around and put in place (zoning) that’s essentially the same. They would feel as though the opportunity to exercise their voice had been stolen from them.”

Next week, the city will host back-to-back “community conversations” on the overall rezoning effort. The sessions are scheduled July 12 and 13 at Walton and Fairview schools.

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