The Maine City Setting the Gold Standard for Pro-Development Zoning Reforms

Auburn, Maine, a city of 20,000 residents, has plans to add enough housing to increase its population by 25 percent by 2025.

2 minute read

May 23, 2022, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

A map showing Auburn, Maine and surrounding highways and towns.

SevenMaps / Shutterstock

Daniel M. Rothschild reports for Discourse Magazine about Auburn, Maine, as the “YIMBYest City in America.” The city’s pro-development efforts are the work of Mayor Jason Levesque, who is pursuing a development strategy for Auburn “that eschews the current fashions of urban planning, undertaking instead a quest to increase the city’s population by a quarter or more in the coming years by unleashing the private sector to build 2,000 new housing units by 2025,” writes Rothschild.

“To put it in perspective, it would be like New York City adding 800,000 new homes and more than 2 million new residents.”

According to Mayor Levesque, Auburn has plenty of jobs, but it lacks housing. Auburn, like much of the rest of the nation and the state is dealing with skyrocketing housing prices.

“Supply isn’t keeping up with demand. As in many other parts of the country, prices are up astronomically: The cost of the median single-family home in the state has increased almost 40% over the past two years, due in part to a pandemic-fueled in-migration rate that is one of the highest in the country per capita,” writes Rothschild.

Mayor Levesque has pursued a series of reforming, starting with a new comprehensive plan approved in December 2021, to “[clear] away barriers to building new housing in Auburn, adopting an ‘all of the above approach’ that includes single-family homes, multi-family homes, apartments and accessory dwelling units (or ADUs). And truly, all options are on the table: a former synagogue was recently converted into 10 apartments.”

The comprehensive plan, according to Mercatus Center economist Salim Furth, goes beyond the example of Minneapolis and Oregon in allowing new investment in established neighborhoods.

After introducing the setting and the players in this story, the article digs into the specifics of the zoning code update that will implement the vision laid out in the city’s new comprehensive plan. The zoning changes are not without controversy, despite Mayor Levesque's leadership on the issues.

“Perhaps the most contentious issue facing the city—and one that really brings out Levesque’s blue-collar populism—is the Agriculture and Resource Protection Zone,” which accounts for about 40 percent of the city’s land area, according to the article. The source article below details Levesque’s response to local residents opposing reforms to the Ag Zone.

See also, previous coverage of Auburn's plan implementation process from March 2022: "Auburn, Maine Approves New Residential and Commercial Densities Despite Public Outcry."

Wednesday, May 18, 2022 in Discourse Magazine

Aerial view of homes on green hillsides in Daly City, California.

Depopulation Patterns Get Weird

A recent ranking of “declining” cities heavily features some of the most expensive cities in the country — including New York City and a half-dozen in the San Francisco Bay Area.

April 10, 2024 - California Planning & Development Report

Aerial view of Oakland, California with bay in background

California Exodus: Population Drops Below 39 Million

Never mind the 40 million that demographers predicted the Golden State would reach by 2018. The state's population dipped below 39 million to 38.965 million last July, according to Census data released in March, the lowest since 2015.

April 11, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

A view straight down LaSalle Street, lined by high-rise buildings with an El line running horizontally over the street.

Chicago to Turn High-Rise Offices into Housing

Four commercial buildings in the Chicago Loop have been approved for redevelopment into housing in a bid to revitalize the city’s downtown post-pandemic.

April 10, 2024 - Chicago Construction News

View from middle of River Seine in Paris with Eiffel Tower on right side.

Seine Pollution Could Hinder Olympic Swim Events

Events like the triathlon could be impacted if tests continue to reveal high levels of dangerous bacteria in Paris’ famous river.

3 minutes ago - Euronews Green

Four-story light-colored multifamily apartment building.

How Financing Restricts the Rental Housing Market

The way apartment buildings are financed has a major impact on supply and costs.

1 hour ago - Strong Towns

Texas Bike Lane

Houston Mayor Pauses Complete Streets Projects

The move raises concerns among road safety advocates who point out that traffic deaths continue to rise.

2 hours ago - Governing

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.