AUBURN — A new framework for updating Auburn’s agriculture and resource protection zone, which encompasses some 20,000 acres, appears to have broad support as it heads to the City Council.

The new zoning language would replace the long-held income standard with what many said is a “viable alternative,” tying residential construction to a “connection to the land.”

The income standard in the current ordinance requires a certain amount of income to be derived from agriculture in order for a property owner to build a home, which has led to perpetual debate over fairness. However, attempts to eliminate the standard have been met with concerns over unchecked development and sprawl.

The new language recommended by the Planning Board on Tuesday would stipulate that a landowner applying to build a residence on a lot in the zone must demonstrate a connection to the land based on agriculture, forestry, outdoor recreation, land conservation, or a combination of the items.

According to a memo on the proposal, the “connection” would be part of the application process and reviewed by city planning staff.

Supporters of the newest proposal said this week that the proposal finally achieves a long-stated goal of only replacing the income standard when and if “a viable alternative is identified.”


Chris Carson, a resident representing a group known as “Save Auburn AGRP,” said the group formally endorses the new proposal.

“We think this is one of the most evenhanded and well-written agricultural approaches we’ve heard in a number of years,” he said during the Planning Board hearing Tuesday. He added that it also complies with Auburn’s Comprehensive Plan, which previous versions did not, he said.

According to the memo, any residence constructed must be “sited away from soils of state significance, prime wildlife habitat, vernal pools, wetlands, and “other features with significant environmental significance.”

Eric Cousens, director of planning and permitting, said like previous proposals, any development would be restricted to 20% of land coverage. On a 10-acre lot, a maximum of two acres could be used for the primary residence, he said. However, an amendment was made prior to the Planning Board approval that stipulates that it must be 20% or two acres, whichever is less.

In response to questions about safeguards for Lake Auburn and Taylor Pond, Cousens said the proposal “increases the opportunity for building a house tied to a wider variety of uses everywhere except the Auburn watershed.” He said the minimum 10-acre lot sizes is “very limiting.”

Stanwood “Joe” Gray, an Auburn resident who has long been involved in talks on the agricultural zone, said the proposed changes are in line with recent recommendations from the Sustainability and Natural Resources Board.


“The proposal recommended by the Planning Board is a reasonable alternative to the current income standard as it maintains the requirement that new dwellings be accessory to farming or agriculture operations, recreational uses, or natural resource uses,” he said.

Board Chairwoman Stacey LeBlanc said Thursday that the meeting was notable due to the “overwhelmingly positive public comments.”

“Personally, I believe the recommended text amendment provides stronger, clearer language to ensure the protection of our natural resources within Auburn’s agricultural zone,” she said. “It provides clear guidance on permitted uses, safeguards around those uses, and aligns with our Comprehensive Plan.”

Evan Cyr, a Planning Board member who was absent Tuesday, said this week that the proposal settled on by the board is “the best alternative to the income standard I have seen.”

“I think it’s actually much better than the income standard was because the recommended language also provides for some resource protections that aren’t included in current language,” he said.

Asked Thursday, Mayor Jason Levesque said he’s “thankful for the amount of work put into this topic by the Planning Board, staff and the City Council over the last five years of vigorous debate and study.”

“Through it all, our desire for fairness throughout the city has produced a workable ordinance that is not only fair to landowners but also protects our vital natural resources for generations to come,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the City Council’s deliberations and final actions over the next several weeks.”

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