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

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