AUBURN — Long-debated changes to the city’s Agriculture and Resource Protection zone — a rural area that makes up some 20,000 acres — were approved by the City Council on Monday after a recent framework received broad support.

The new zoning language will replace the long-held income standard with language that ties residential construction to a connection with 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.

New language developed by city staff, and recommended by the Planning Board last month, would stipulate that a landowner applying to build a residence in the zone must demonstrate a connection to the land based on agriculture, forestry, outdoor recreation, land conservation or a combination of the items.

A plan for a connection to the land would be part of the application process and reviewed by city planning staff.


The council voted unanimously, with one councilor absent, to approve the changes in a final reading.

A city news release issued after the meeting said the changes “will maintain a connection to the land and limit growth in the zone but will expand the housing allowance connected to rural land uses beyond traditional farms to include recreational and natural resource-based uses that offer public benefit or access to rural working lands.”

Eric Cousens, director of planning, permitting and code, said the new ordinance represents a “significant compromise between competing interests in Auburn land use planning.”

“The debate leading up to the current proposal was well-attended, often heated, and resulted in an ordinance that I believe will ensure that the (agriculture zone) will continue to set an urban growth boundary for Auburn, while conceding some protections to balance the debate on public good vs. private property rights,” he said.

“The eight years of work we completed tonight not only rights an injustice by removing a discriminatory income standard, but also finally protects valuable natural resources and encourages agriculture, which has been in a steady decline since the income standard was put in place in 1964,” Mayor Jason Levesque said. “I would like to thank the Planning Board, City Council, staff and the residents who advocated for fairness for all, not just a select few.”

During the meeting, Chris Carson, a resident representing a group known as Save Auburn AGRP, reiterated the group’s endorsement of the proposal.

He said it is in line with the city’s Comprehensive Plan and maintains the association between residential construction and a viable plan for use in either agriculture, recreation or open space.

Councilor Dana Staples thanked the stakeholders who have been part of discussions and said his “hat is off” to city staff for its work. He said he’s been watching the debate unfold over several years, and that even now he’s “surprised we’ve come to a place” where a plan has majority support.

According to a council memo, a few amendments to the final language that were recommended by the Planning Board will be referred back to the board for a public hearing and could return for future consideration by the council.

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