Auburn is slated to approve new zoning regulations this week for public safety facilities as the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department plans a new facility on Center Street at the site of the former Evergreen Subaru location. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — Auburn is slated to approve new zoning regulations this week for public safety facilities as the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department moves ahead with plans for a new headquarters on Center Street.

The updated zoning language will give the City Council more oversight of new governmental buildings, including final approval, and require a report on the impacts of the new facility.

Last March, Androscoggin County purchased the former Evergreen Subaru dealership at 774 Center St. for $4.5 million in hopes of building a new Sheriff’s Office headquarters. However, with some elected officials and staff concerned with the location and lack of details on the project, the Auburn City Council implemented a six-month moratorium on new public safety facilities, which was eventually extended an additional six months.

Now, Auburn officials will vote this week — in quick succession — on the new zoning regulations ahead of the moratorium expiring March 2. The City Council will hold a first reading Monday, with the Planning Board making its recommendation during a meeting the next day. Then, the council has called a special meeting for Friday, Feb. 17, to hold a final reading.

Mayor Jason Levesque said Friday that the quick timeline for approving the zoning language stemmed from wanting to provide “finality” to the sheriff’s department about the new regulations.

“The county deserves to know what the council plans to do prior to the moratorium ending,” he said.


However, he said the new rules will also govern the city’s own plans to build a joint police and fire public safety headquarters on Minot Avenue.

“This is not directed just at the county,” he said.

According to Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson, the proposed facility would house the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office, administrative offices, patrol division, criminal investigation division, communications and civil division. It would require a 14,000-square-foot addition.

One of the stated concerns from city officials last year was the possibility that the county may eventually relocate the jail to the Center Street property, however, county officials have said relocating the jail from Turner Street is not planned.

Eric Cousens, director of planning and permitting in Auburn, said the proposed zoning changes would not allow a jail or correctional facility there. But, he said, staff consulted with the Sheriff’s Office while developing the standards and had a tour of their existing facility.

“It is not (the sheriff’s) intent to have jail cells at the property in the foreseeable future so I don’t expect that will impact the county project,” Cousens said.


Samson said the county’s plans at the Center Street property have been “on hold” due to the moratorium, and that the county is looking forward to moving onto the next steps of the process. He said he’s attended recent Planning Board workshops on the zoning changes, and that the county proposal was never specifically referenced during discussions.

The county has been working with architects Harriman and Associates on a concept draft of the facility, which Samson said was provided to city staff “so our intentions were clear and documented for them.”

When the county purchased the Center Street property, Cousens said the council felt the current zoning language “was insufficient to address the potential specific impacts” of the variety of uses that could be approved.

“This is especially true for new locations that do not have a current or historic impact that people are used to living next to,” he said.

Cousens said the new zoning rules will make public safety buildings allowed only as a special exception. In the county’s case, it would be required anyway due to the proposal exceeding 5,000 square feet.

He said “the biggest difference” moving forward, if approved next week, will be that all projects provide a “community impact and needs analysis,” with review and approval from the City Council. The document would report on the potential impacts and need for the proposed facility and would then require a City Council finding “that the needs outweigh the impacts.”


Cousens said the Planning Board would need the council review and approval as part of its special exception review.

“The important variable here is whenever you place a government facility, not only do we have to look at zoning, but at impacts to surrounding uses and the financial impact,” Levesque said.

Officials last year said part of the concern for the county’s new location was that it would remove a prime piece of real estate from the city’s tax rolls.

Samson said the county purchased the property because it was “in the appropriate zone located within the county seat, the city of Auburn.”

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