Auburn resident Chelsea Eaton speaks during a Planning Board hearing Tuesday on a proposal to remove the income standard in the city’s Agriculture and Resource Protection zone, which has long limited residential development. Submitted photo

AUBURN — After receiving considerable public feedback in opposition, city staff will attempt to create a “compromise version” of proposed ordinance changes that would remove the long-held income standard in Auburn’s Agriculture and Resource Protection zone.

Concern from the public during the hearing Tuesday stemmed from proposed language that residents and city staff said could result in sprawl and increased costs to city services. Staff and several residents also said the current draft before the Planning Board goes against the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which states that new housing development should stem from the city core.

After a lengthy discussion, the Planning Board voted unanimously to put off making a recommendation on removing the standard, asking staff to present alternative language that would maintain some kind of connection between building a residence and agriculture or forestry uses.

The board was previously directed by the City Council to make a recommendation on whether to remove the standard by this spring. However, the Planning Board previously said the income standard should not be removed without being replaced with a “reasonable alternative.”

The current income standard stipulates that in order to build a home, 30% of the property owner’s gross annual income or an amount equal to at least 30% of the city’s median annual household income must be derived from farming. However, the standard has been scrutinized for years because it prevents a portion of landowners from being able to live on their land.

Eric Cousens, director of planning and permitting, said Tuesday that the city does not currently have a “good alternative to the income standard,” but said the proposal as is would encourage sprawl. He said if officials want to expand residential uses in the zone, they could consider changes to the Comprehensive Plan that would more clearly designate areas for potential development closer to the city core.


“Staff’s recommendation is based on the (Comprehensive Plan) and what we believe to be best planning practices,” he told the board. “We don’t recommend the draft before you, because it removes the connection between residential uses and (agriculture) or natural resources.”

“We recognize the need to create housing opportunity and were suggesting it could be done in a more concentrated way,” he added.

During public comment, several residents questioned the current proposal, also arguing that it goes against the city’s own land use planning and that it would increase taxes for the bulk of residents.

Chelsea Eaton said her taxes went up a considerable amount last year, and said despite that “we seem to be losing services,” like the spring clean up, and now the recycling program. She’s worried changes will just lead to more increases.

Camille Parish said the increase in city service costs is “why sprawl is discouraged.”

“From my time in city government I have never seen a more direct staff recommendation than you have before you,” said Katie Boss, a former city councilor and Planning Board member. “It deviates from the (Comprehensive Plan) and goes against the plan to concentrate growth stemming from the city center.”


Another resident said the city seems to continue “forging ahead despite overwhelming opposition to these catastrophic changes.”

Only one person, Peter Moore, spoke in favor of the proposed changes. Moore owns hundreds of acres in the zone and has long advocated for the change.

Board member Evan Cyr, who drafted the proposal discussed Tuesday, said it was meant as a “starting point” for discussions. He said the idea of removing the standard is not new, and that the city has received several recommendations over the years to strike it down.

Member Riley Bergeron said he agrees that the income standard needs to be changed, but said he doesn’t believe the current proposal is a “reasonable alternative.”

“Because of its conflicts with the (Comprehensive Plan) it becomes unreasonable,” he said.

Member Tim Deroche said city staff should attempt to draft something that “makes everyone happy” and present it to the board for consideration. He said the income standard discussion opens up “a Pandora’s box for everybody.”

Cousens said staff will likely present the board with alternative language on June 6.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story