Auburn council to decide on whether to allow separate, in-law structures

Andrew Rice, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
·2 min read

Apr. 2—AUBURN — The City Council will vote Monday on a zoning amendment that would allow separate, in-law structures to be built in residential zones.

The first reading comes after city officials held a public discussion last week on a series of zoning amendments being considered in Auburn, meant to encourage housing growth.

If approved, the change would allow qualifying property owners in residential zones to build detached, secondary dwelling units, or "in-law" units on their properties — a move that officials hope can help free up single-family homes.

Currently, even if a homeowner has the required land area and meets the density requirements, a second unit has to be attached or contained within a single structure.

On March 25, the Planning Board sent a favorable recommendation to the City Council with a unanimous vote.

The zoning amendment is one of several in the pipeline in Auburn that is tied to a larger push to address housing growth, either by giving property owners more options for their land or by encouraging in-fill development in vacant properties.

Infill development is the process of developing vacant or underused parcels within urban areas that are already largely developed.

However, the pace at which the city is moving prompted City Councilor Holly Lasagna to request the public discussion last week. She told the Sun Journal she had seen some "general confusion" about the changes, and wanted residents to have an opportunity to ask questions about how the changes could impact them.

According to Mayor Jason Levesque, the March 31 meeting had a light turnout of roughly 15 people. But he said it was a "good conversation," mostly evenly split between those with concerns for too many changes and those who agree that the city's zoning has limited growth and options for property owners.

Asked about the light turnout, Levesque said he believes "if people are happy with what's going on, they don't show up to meetings."

But, he said, the conversation and interaction with the public "was something we haven't had in the last year" due to the pandemic.

He also noticed that residents' questions have changed.

"They're seeing that their children and friends can't find homes to buy," he said, referring to Maine's historically-tight housing market and low inventory.

"I was really encouraged," he said.

During his recent "state of the city" address, Levesque called for a substantial increase in housing development — some 2,000 single-family homes — over the next five years, while asking officials to remove regulation barriers and encourage infill development in the downtown.

In September, the City Council agreed in concept to a six-month process to increase the available housing units in the city, a decision driven by the current housing market.

In February, officials expanded Auburn's form-based code district known as Traditional Downtown Neighborhood to a swath of the downtown and New Auburn.