AUBURN — An ambitious rezoning of the city’s central residential area could be delayed Monday after a legal review revealed complications, but officials will have at least three options to move the effort forward.
The proposed rezoning of the 1,687-acre area, part of a larger city effort to encourage a wider variety of housing types, has proven controversial with area residents who fear new Multi-unit housing and commercial uses only increase traffic and problems, and decrease the quality of predominantly single-family neighborhoods.
After council passed an amended version of the zoning last week, a legal review by the city attorney recommended against a second reading vote on that version when council meets in a special meeting on Monday.
Instead, the review found that from a legal standpoint the council should either adopt the original version or create an entirely new zoning district based on the changes made last week, which would require a additional Planning Board review and hearing.
Another option would allow council to update zoning in only a small portion of the originally proposed area, although this option is not recommended by staff. After a council request, an example provided by city staff was included in Monday’s agenda package, showing a section of land surrounding Auburn Middle School that is tied to a recent proposal of development.
The upcoming discussion on Monday depicts the complications officials now face due to the immense public feedback received on the proposed changes.
One such complication: Staff said passing the amendments would also change zoning rules already in place in other areas of Auburn. Residents of these areas have not been notified of the proposed changes, which is a requirement.
Eric Cousens, director of planning and permits, said he believed the changes proposed by council last week “have been made in an effort to try to make it more accommodating and to accept public feedback received,” adding, “We learned a lot from the public feedback on how to improve it.
But, he said, the changes were deemed significant enough that staff felt the matter should be referred to the Planning Council.
‘CITY CENTER DISTRICT’
The type of zoning, called “T-4.2” or Traditional Downtown Neighborhood, would affect sections of Court, Lake and Turner streets; and Park, Western, and Gamage Avenues. (See map.)
A City Council memo describes the type of zoning as “small to medium-sized buildings with smaller front yards and stoops in a more compact urban setting, and includes traditional neighborhood-sized storefronts” .
It also says that the zoning aims to foster “greater interaction between the private and public realms.”
Under the amended proposal submitted by Councilor Ryan Hawes, the scale of permitted housing density and commercial uses has been lowered, bringing the permitted density to 14 units per acre, from the original proposal of 16 per acre , and making several types of commercial uses. permitted only with a special exception from the Planning Board.
Many public comments received by Council and the Planning Board have focused on the introduction of commercial uses into the areas, which are currently not permitted.
The amended proposal would limit office, service and retail uses to a footprint of 1,500 square feet and would have a residential unit on the top floor. The list of commercial uses that would require a special exception from the Planning Board include tourist lodges, aged and child care establishments, residential establishments and boarding houses, professional offices, personal services, commercial general retail and more.
Restaurants with up to 30 seats would also require a special exception, with more than 30 seats not permitted.
Overall, staff said, the changes would require the creation of a new zoning district. On Monday’s agenda, it is called “T-4.2B”.
The city began moving towards “forms-based code” after the 2010 comprehensive plan, eventually adopting a forms-based code framework in 2016. The city lists a number of types of forms-based code forms, including two intended for urban residential areas and two intended. in city centers.
Originally, the city’s proposed use of the T-4.2 was limited to a small area of downtown Main Street and along the river. But, the updated comprehensive plan recommends a series of zoning changes based on encouraging new housing, starting with more urban areas that have city utilities.
Cousens said it was not “intentional” by council, but the changes proposed last week would also affect small neighborhoods in New Auburn and along the river that already have T-4.2 zoning.
“We do not want there to be textual changes that apply to the T-4.2 district as a whole because there are other areas of the city where it exists, and these residents have not been notified,” did he declare.
During last week’s meeting, several councilors and residents urged council to refer the proposal to the planning board. This included former Councilor Bob Hayes, who believes the city should divide the area into at least two or more zoning types.
In an email to councillors, he said: ‘The proposed code change for Outer Court Street and Outer Lake Street to (T-4.2) is unwarranted’, calling it ‘counter-intuitive as it compromises the integrity of existing residential areas”.
He also argued that encouraging commercial uses there could harm the city’s efforts to create a “downtown main street of commerce, culture and social activity.”
STABLE RIDGE APARTMENTS
According to City Attorney Michael Malloy, regarding the city’s legal options, she could either adopt the original measure, which allows for a density of 16 units per acre, or “she can come up with a new language, whether it’s either the creation of a new district or the modification of the characteristics of an existing district, and send the proposed text to the Planning Board for consideration, subject to the usual notice and hearing requirements. »
Mayor Jason Levesque, who has been a strong advocate for the zoning change, said he expects council to hold another “thoughtful discussion” on the issue on Monday.
“We all have goals that we want to try to achieve for the city,” he said. “We have to solve the technical problems.”
He said that while the council’s decision last week had unintended consequences, he doesn’t think the city should “continue to delay action.” He said last week he had convened the special meeting on Monday – a week earlier than usual – because any delay would place “a financial burden not only on developers but also on individual owners” who have projects underway.
Cousens confirmed Friday that the city had received a proposal for development at 555 Court St., a plot near Auburn Middle School, but said the Planning Board likely won’t consider the project until May. He said he was removed from the April agenda due to uncertainty surrounding the board’s deliberations.
The proposal, called “Stable Ridge Apartments”, would develop 60 units in five buildings.
He said one of council’s options on Monday would be to adopt the original T-4.2 zoning on a limited section of land in the initial proposal, which could include the parcel at 555 Court St., but said staff did not recommend it.
Cousens said city staff are doing their best to let residents know about zoning discussions, but said it’s been particularly difficult because of the number of issues being discussed at the same time. The city has also made recent changes to the zoning of its Washington Street gateway as well as lands along the boundary of the Lake Auburn watershed.
He said city staff have received hundreds of phone calls from residents and are trying to spend time with each landlord to explain what the changes might mean for them.
“We look at everyone’s individual situation and try to clarify that for them,” he said.
But he said they’re also hearing from people who support the changes or who, once they know more, support the city’s proposal. Councilor Hawes, who proposed the list of amendments last week, estimated that despite concerns expressed at town hall meetings, 80% of the comments he heard were positive.
Cousens said “there is a real push to create new housing” as it is increasingly difficult for ordinary people to find housing or rentals in Auburn.
Levesque said the intent behind the updated comprehensive plan was “to preserve our neighborhoods but also replicate them in other parts of the city, while allowing greater flexibility for landowners.”
“We are trying to solve this housing crisis in small pieces,” he said.
Regarding the problem with T-4.2 zoning, he said that with zoning already in place in some small areas of Auburn for two years, it has shown promise.
“We haven’t seen a catastrophic collapse of our neighborhoods because of this,” he said. “You see a nice revitalization, and you don’t see someone coming in and buying an entire block to redevelop.”
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