AUBURN — The city is conducting a survey to get residents’ opinions on how to balance future development and conservation as it considers changes to the long-held income standard in Auburn’s “agriculture and resource protection” zone.

The five-page survey asks residents how and where the city should grow in the future and to weigh the importance of conservation versus private property rights in the agricultural zone, an area of some 20,000 acres.

According to city staff, the survey was initiated by the Planning Board as it works toward recommendations on how to update the agricultural zone.

Late last year, the council passed a resolution asking the board to provide an opinion on whether the city should eliminate the income standard, which requires a certain level of income be derived from agriculture activities as a condition to build a residence in the zone.

Officials say the income standard has prevented even longtime landowners from building homes and that an attempt to rework the rules in 2019 has not yielded any new farm operations as it was intended.

Eric Cousens, director of planning and permitting, said part of the recent discussion has centered on conflicting language in the zoning ordinance. He said the zone has been used to preserve land for future industrial growth, protect prime soils for agriculture, and “pure conservation of natural resources,” but that the city would like to be more clear on which areas are in the zone for each of the purposes.


An introduction to the survey states that while land next to areas with prime soils and potential for agricultural uses “should experience limited or no growth,” the Comprehensive Plan also “recognizes that agricultural uses of the land may not be profitable in some areas,” and that the income standard may “eliminate the economic use of private land, and the city should encourage other ways of meeting the goals of the (agricultural) zone without an income requirement.”

Cousens said the survey was “an opportunity to highlight some of the reasons for the current policies, identify the comprehensive elements and/or qualities of the land that people have deemed important, and continue a discussion about balancing those priorities in a transparent way.”

“As part of that discussion we (staff and Planning Board) saw value in introducing one more tool for public feedback beyond the numerous and well-attended public meetings at the Planning Board,” he said.

In December, the Sustainability and Natural Resource Management Board said the city should conduct a “rigorous planning process” to protect the assets of the zone while allowing “limited development of housing in vetted locations.”

The board and members of the public said the city should not remove the standard until a new framework for limiting development in the zone can be created.

The survey asks residents where Auburn should concentrate growth in the future, using a map. Of the five options, areas one, two and three are in the agricultural zone. The Lake Auburn watershed is not included in the options.


It also asks residents how the city should decide where land future growth should take place based on elements such as proximity to city and village cores, existing roadways and utilities.

“As Auburn continues to grow in smart ways, getting consistent feedback from our residents and landowners is critical to ensure we continue making smart decisions for growth,” Mayor Jason Levesque said.

He said the survey is one aspect of information gathering the city is conducting to make decisions on zoning.

“We can use data to properly protect our natural resources while ensuring there’s economic benefit for landowners and the city,” he said.

The deadline for taking the survey is Feb. 10.

According to Cousens, the Planning Board will continue its discussion and consider public input and the survey feedback at the Feb. 14 board meeting, hold a public hearing in March and make a final recommendation to the council.

The council gave the Planning Board a deadline of March 20 for its recommendation on the income standard due to concerns for updating the ordinance prior to when LD 2003, state legislation that will increase housing density in most residential areas, goes into effect.

Cousens said responses have been coming in at “a good rate.” As of Monday, the city had received more than 150.

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