City Council rezones Auburn Environmental Park area for light industrial use

Hoping to entice private-sector green businesses to invest there and bring hundreds of high-paying jobs with them, on Aug. 7, 2006, the Auburn City Council created a new industrial designation for the 270-acre Auburn Environmental Park (AEP).

Uses allowed on 158 acres of the Environmental Park zone, as it was called, west of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe rail lines and spanning West Main Street, were to focus upon medical, biotech and “green” technologies, including energy conversation, engineering, water quality and similar uses.

But those businesses put their money instead into two nearby areas zoned for light industrial uses.

And property owners continued to struggle with obtaining insurance and lending, with buying, selling and renting spaces inside the zone, a mix of pre-existing industrial properties, several large city-owned properties, including the Auburn Environmental Park, and wetland properties that are a component of the City’s stormwater management system.

Because of the amount of existing industrial activity that exists within the current AEP zone that was developed before the zone even existed, however, much of it doesn’t conform to the zoning designation it has today.

In 2014, property owners joined an attorney and a realtor in asking the City to consider returning those 158 acres to a light industrial designation, and bring the city’s zoning map into compliance with its comprehensive plan, the latter of which has designated the area as “light industrial,” since 2015.

On Monday evening, that’s what the Auburn City Council did.

Councilman John Holman, while applauding the vision of prior councils for giving the idea a go, was all for moving on.

“My main concern is that it has been in existence for 11 years, and nothing has come of it,” Holman said of the AEP zoning.

Councilman Rich Wagner, an early and consistent champion of the concept, said he was “somewhat disappointed,” at “throwing away an opportunity for economic development.”

Disappointed at moving away from the Green Zone concept that former Councilmember Lynne Norman brought forward 11 years ago to encourage businesses with high-paying jobs to settle in that area near the AEP, a concept given form in an ordinance the City Council passed about the time that the Great Recession hit.

The city, Wagner said, never gave that concept a chance.

“We were supposed to have started a plan to develop incentives for high paying, environmentally-sensitive or environmentally interested companies to locate there. Those incentives were never developed, and they were fundamental to making this thing work,” Wagner said.

Council agreed on a plan to examine how the economic incentives the City does have, for instance, operative in the downtown area have actually worked, what payoff they have realized, but “to prioritize evaluation in the area of the former Environmental Park Zone north of Main Street, with an emphasis on economic incentives.”

Warming to the idea, Wagner changed his mind on the rezoning and supported it.

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