A truck unloads dirt in 2023 at the gravel pit along Gracelawn Road in Auburn. Property owner John Gendron had previously eyed a large housing development on the property, but Auburn city staff said Monday that he has scrapped those plans. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

AUBURN — The owner of a large parcel between Gracelawn Road and Lake Auburn has scrapped plans to develop the site into housing, according to city staff.

At one time, property owner John Gendron eyed a 1,100-unit development on the 88-acre site, but the proposal set off a communitywide debate over water quality that included a lawsuit between Lewiston and the Auburn Water District.

According to Eric Cousens, director of planning and permitting, Gendron has decided not to pursue a housing project at the site, and plans to continue with a gravel mining operation for the foreseeable future.

Efforts to reach Gendron and a consultant on the project Monday were unsuccessful.

The property features a large gravel pit that became central in the debate over whether the land could be used for development without negatively impacting Lake Auburn due to its proximity to the watershed boundary. Eventually, following professional studies, the state approved a new watershed boundary, and the city of Auburn approved new zoning that appeared to clear the way for a Gendron development.

However, while Gendron had previously submitted a traffic movement permit to the Maine Department of Transportation, his team never submitted an application for development review in Auburn.


The former council, led by Mayor Jason Levesque, approved the new zoning in December, but two weeks later, following the inauguration of the new council and Mayor Jeff Harmon, the council began an effort to delay the new zoning, which allows for a range of commercial uses. The council eventually voted the delay motion down on April 1 by a 4-3 vote after the Planning Board recommended against the delay.

Harmon, who campaigned for mayor promoting “smart development” and opposing development near Lake Auburn, said the recent change to the watershed boundary made the Gracelawn site developable.

“Since the Maine Drinking Water Program adjusted the Lake Auburn watershed boundary, the pit area along Gracelawn Road has become a potential development site,” he said Monday. “Whether the landowner decides to submit an application to develop the site or maintain a gravel pit operation is a business decision they will make.”

The development decision could also play a role in the ongoing lawsuit between the city of Lewiston and the Auburn Water District. Lewiston has argued that Auburn’s actions could threaten the waiver from filtration that the cities hold, but the Auburn Water District has maintained that the recent watershed changes, including new septic design standards, have been based on science.

Some Auburn officials have argued that a development with proper stormwater management at the Gracelawn site would be more beneficial than a working gravel pit.

The issue became central in the mayoral campaign between Harmon and Levesque, with signs stating “Protect Lake Auburn” visible around the city. Through it all, Levesque maintained that taken together, the watershed ordinance changes would benefit water quality, and that the new watershed boundary on Gendron’s land was conservative. However, Levesque was soundly defeated at the polls in November.

Reached Monday, he said, “It’s disappointing that after years of work and countless studies, a project that would provide hundreds of attainable housing units and millions of dollars in positive tax revenue was squandered by elected officials who would rather see a gravel pit versus opportunities for environmentally sound development.”

The City Council this year also directed members of several city committees and other stakeholders to review the watershed ordinance amendments approved by the previous council and recommend any changes to the council.

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