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Auburn council delays decision on agriculture zone study

AUBURN — The fate of a 13-month study of the city’s agriculture properties will wait until Nov. 7, councilors said Monday.

The City Council was poised to kill plans to pay $40,000 to study and modernize the city’s Agriculture and Resource Protection Zone. Instead, last-minute uneasiness convinced a majority to table the plan.

Councilors voted 4-3 to delay their decision, with Councilors Bob Stone, Andy Titus and Leroy Walker voting against tabling.

The agriculture zone covers almost 20,000 acres, about 40 percent of the city’s total area. It was meant to  promote open space and the use of natural resources, encouraging farming, forestry and recreation.

One way it works is by keeping sizes for house lots high — a minimum of 10 acres. In contrast, the suburban residential zone allows house lots of half an acre or more. Urban residential zone house lots can be as small as a quarter of an acre.

Another way is by requiring 50 percent of the owner’s income to come from the agricultural uses on the property.

The project would hire a consultant to study properties in the agriculture zone and how they are being used, talk to residents about how they want the land to be treated and the zone changes and determine the economic value of the zone. It would create a database of properties, host several public meetings and forums and create a final report with recommendations.

Former City Councilor Dan Herrick, a farmer living on 470 Hatch Road, said there’s no need for the study. Councilors just need to get rid of the 10-acre limit and the 50 percent income rule.

“Those two things have been a burden on this city for years,” Herrick said. “But you don’t need to hire a consultant to do that. You people can do that, planning and permitting can do that, the public can help do that. But it does not take $40,000 to do that.”

Farmer Joe Gray said they don’t need any help from the city.

“We know what we need to do,” Gray said. “We don’t need your help. We don’t want your help.”

But Kirsten Walter of St. Mary’s Nutrition Center said a study would make sure Auburn’s zoning codes do what the community wants.

“We do know there is a lot with the zoning that does not work and it will take some outside expertise to make sure we focus on the most critical matters,” she said.

Councilor Jim Pross agreed with Walter.

“There are a lot of competing interests and we need to be sure we are pushing this in the right direction and balancing those competing interests with a focus and attention on how we enhance existing resources for the future,” Pross said.

But Councilor Titus said he feared the study wouldn’t be useful.

“It’s an unorganized effort,” Titus said. “Too many times we’ve gone into studies without a clear understanding of what we want to do. The study gets done, we look at it, say it’s wonderful and just put it on a shelf.”

Before being tabled, only Pross and Councilor Grady Burns spoke in support of the study. Councilor Ernestine Gilbert said she’s heard too many opinions from councilors Monday and recommended tabling the matter to give her more time to think about it.


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