The gravel pit between Gracelawn Road and Lake Auburn in Auburn is seen March 23. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

AUBURN — Petitioners hoping to reverse the recent rezoning of land between Gracelawn Road and Lake Auburn submitted more than 2,000 signatures to the City Clerk’s office Thursday.

Once the signatures are certified, the City Council will have 30 days to either repeal the ordinance or send the issue to voters.

Keri Myrick, one of the organizers of the petition effort, said Thursday that she’s “hopeful” that the City Council will listen to the public and the concern about potential development at the gravel pit site.

The property has been at the center of a debate over water quality and development at the lake that is also a key component of a lawsuit from the city of Lewiston.

The rezoning, approved March 21, removed 148 acres between the Auburn Mall area and Lake Auburn out of the so-called Lake Auburn watershed overlay district and into a zone that allows for a range of development uses.

City officials pursued the change after a recent study said the land should not be considered part of the watershed, but people concerned over the fragile state of the lake have argued that the issue should be looked at more closely.

Myrick, who worked to gather signatures for the petition, said the group has volunteers from all over Auburn, “not just those living in the watershed,” showing that residents all over the city are concerned.

The group submitted 2,120 signatures on 102 petitions.

The petition effort began April 20, forming not long after a separate petition effort launched in early April sought to repeal the rezoning of the Court Street residential area. That petition is in the process of being certified, and city officials could repeal and replace the Court Street area zoning without having to send the question to voters.

Myrick said residents behind the Gracelawn petition effort have been “frustrated” by many of the same things as the Court Street residential zoning group, known as Citizens for Sensible Growth.

“These are decisions that should go to the people of Auburn,” she said, adding that people “don’t feel like the City Council is listening to them.”

“We’re ready to have leadership that’s truly transparent, and that’s not the case here in Auburn,” she said.

The five-member petitioners’ committee, made up of Myrick, Peter Dingley, Fred Holler, Stanwood Gray and Celia McGuckian, had 90 days to circulate petitions, and needed at least 1,648 valid signatures.

According to City Clerk Sue Clements-Dallaire, the owner of the Gracelawn Road parcel, John Gendron, registered a municipal Ballot Question Committee called “Responsible Development Auburn” on June 10.

Ballot Question Committees, similar to Political Action Committees, are required under campaign finance laws when an organization seeks to influence a ballot initiative. Municipal Ballot Question Committees are required in municipalities with a population over 15,000.

According to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics & Election Practices, Ballot Question Committees must be formed if the total amount of contributions received or expenditures made by an organization to initiate or influence the outcome of a ballot question exceeds $5,000.

Clements-Dallaire said Responsible Development Auburn has filed two 24-hour reports and its initial Ballot Question Committee report.

She said both groups that have circulated petitions “have been provided with BQC/PAC information and filing requirements when and if they need to register.”

On May 12, the city of Lewiston filed a civil complaint against the Auburn Water District in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn.

The civil complaint asks the court to declare that the Auburn Water District does not have the authority to change the definition of the watershed or its boundary, and that any increased development causing pollution to the lake goes against the Water District’s charter and its agreement with Lewiston.

Lewiston believes the changes could lead to the district losing its filtration waiver, which allows it to treat water without a more expensive filtration system.

Auburn officials, including Mayor Jason Levesque, have argued that each step the city has taken, from the Gracelawn parcel to proposed septic standard updates, has been outlined in last year’s report by FB Environmental, the Horsley Witten Group and the University of Maine.

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