Gracelawn Road plot owner seeking to rezone a section for residential development

AUBURN – The owner of a large parcel of Gracelawn Road that has been at the center of a Lake Auburn debate is seeking to rezone a section to allow residential development.

John Gendron, the owner of 148 acres between the Auburn Mall area and the lake, submitted a petition to rezone 58 acres to residential.

As a debate over development near the watershed continues, Gendron said in a letter to the Sun Journal on Saturday that he wanted to “set the record straight” on what he is trying to accomplish with the land. . He said the goal was to build “housing for the working class”.

He also repeated several times that the property is not in the watershed.

“The property is downriver in the watershed and the water is flowing in the opposite direction,” he said. “It’s not an opinion, it’s a geographic fact determined by environmental scientists.”

He told the Sun Journal that, if approved, the first phase of development would be condominiums followed by single-family homes at an “accessible” price.

“Our vision is to build modest, respectable homes for middle-class families who have been shut out of Auburn’s housing market,” he wrote in his letter to the Sun Journal. “Our plan includes a unique look for each new housing segment to blend in with the current character of the neighborhood. Our goal is to turn an old gravel pit into a great new neighborhood that Auburn can be proud of, and that’s all we want to accomplish.

The land was originally rezoned in March, placing the acreage into the ‘general business’ type of zoning which allows for a range of commercial developments. It’s been a gravel pit for 90 years.

During public hearings, residents said the city should conduct further studies of the area, given the fragility of Lake Auburn.

Petitioners hoping to overturn the rezoning submitted more than 2,000 signatures to the city clerk’s office on Thursday. Once certified, the city council will have 30 days to revoke the ordinance or send the issue to voters.

However, Gendron’s request to rezone 58 acres complicates the timeline.

Auburn’s ordinances code allows anyone to request a rezoning with a petition signed by 25 or more registered voters. Once verified, the Planning Commission must hold a hearing on the application within 45 days.

If Gendron’s request to rezoning is ultimately granted and council repeals the March rezoning, only the remaining 90 acres will revert to the Auburn Agricultural Zone.

Gendron’s request would place the 58 acres in zoning known as T-4.2, or “Traditional Downtown District,” the same zoning that another petition seeks to repeal in the residential area of ​​Court Street.

Mayor Jason Levesque said Gendron’s efforts to rezoning are “a great example of local developers responding to residents’ concerns.”

He said this allays fears he has heard for larger commercial development and that the T-4.2 zoning means, if it goes ahead, it will be a residential development for use mixed on the city’s public services.

While Auburn officials cited a recent study that says the land should not be considered part of the watershed, Lewiston officials challenged Auburn’s authority to change the watershed definition.

On May 12, the City of Lewiston filed a civil lawsuit against the Auburn Water District in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn.

The civil complaint asks the court to declare that the Auburn Water District does not have the power to change the definition of the watershed or its boundaries, and that any increased development causing pollution of the lake is against its law. the water district charter and its agreement with Lewiston. .

Lewiston thinks the changes could lead to the district losing its filtration waiver, which allows it to treat water without a more expensive filtration system.

In his letter, Gendron said: “Don’t be fooled by a few people on the other side of the river who want to fight to settle old scores. Our family has been part of this community for generations and we only have Auburn’s best interests in mind.

At recent town hall meetings in Auburn, residents questioned why the city would pursue development near the watershed given Auburn’s undeveloped acreage elsewhere.

According to Gendron’s rezoning petition, the change “is consistent with the current approved comprehensive plan which identifies this area as a growth area.”

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