AUBURN, Maine — A drive round Lake Auburn reveals clear indicators of the development-related struggle enjoying a key position within the November mayoral race.
They’re actually indicators. “Defend Lake Auburn” is the motto gracing the expansive and well-maintained lawns of dozens of houses not removed from the water. They’re usually paired with assist for Jeff Harmon, who’s attempting to knock off Mayor Jason Levesque in November.
Levesque has received three phrases together with nationwide reward for his sweeping housing plans. That difficulty, which has not too long ago polled as the most important one dealing with Mainers, is on the middle of the marketing campaign within the sprawling swing metropolis, as is the mayor’s formidable development agenda.
He needs Auburn to develop from roughly 24,000 residents to surpass 31,000-person Bangor by 2030 as Maine’s No. 3 metropolis in inhabitants. Close to the tip of a Wednesday interview, Levesque additionally mentioned he needed to see Maine’s inhabitants develop previous 2 million and have stronger types of native authorities throughout the state.
“The extra individuals you may have, the extra issues you possibly can repair,” Levesque, 49, mentioned over soup on the downtown Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub, sporting a quarter-zip from Rogue Life Maine in Lewiston.
On Thursday, Levesque headed to Boston to obtain a regional award for city innovation. He additionally welcomed President Joe Biden to an Auburn manufacturing facility in July and was praised final 12 months by a libertarian-leaning outlet for main the “YIMBYest metropolis in America.”
For all of these accolades, the previous Republican congressional candidate and businessman barely prevailed in 2017 to first take cost of Auburn. Levesque is in one other struggle this 12 months, dealing with pushback from some residents for his hard-charging, pro-development agenda.
Harmon, 64, a former Maine State Police deputy chief and Auburn police officer who’s retired, has risen in native politics by resisting it, setting the stage for a aggressive nonpartisan November race, although Levesque and Harmon are a Republican and Democrat, respectively.
The challenger is a member of teams that oppose improvement adjustments pushed by Levesque and the Auburn Metropolis Council, notably the rezoning of the Gracelawn gravel pits space to permit extra dwelling and enterprise development close to Lake Auburn in addition to the potential development of a filtration plant for the lake that some worry would result in increased taxes and water payments.
Lake Auburn is one among just a few dozen lakes within the nation with a waiver that enables Auburn and Lewiston residents to get their water from it with out filtration, however Levesque famous the U.S. Environmental Safety Company has suggested native officers going again about 15 years that they might must pay for a filtration system to counter air pollution and local weather change.
Levesque and metropolis officers have used “window dressing to make it seem like it’s been a public course of” on improvement, Harmon argues. He additionally thinks the mayor is pursuing single-family houses whereas not prioritizing wanted for senior, workforce and low-income housing.
“All of us notice we’d like extra housing,” Harmon mentioned Wednesday at his dwelling a couple of minutes west of downtown Auburn. “All of us notice we’ll have continued development in Auburn. However that development must be deliberate.”
Harmon’s yard abuts an expanse of land used for the Secure Ridge Residences, which function 60 market-rate multifamily items accomplished this 12 months and a second part of 60 items which are slated for completion by subsequent 12 months. The candidate himself has challenged the second part in courtroom, arguing the town didn’t comply with its zoning ordinances in approving the plan.
Levesque’s allies see a not-in-my-backyard tinge to Harmon’s activism. Secure Ridge developer Jessica Klimek, an Auburn native, mentioned the problem is “placing the higher pursuits of the group apart” and is amongst a gaggle of older residents who “simply don’t need change.”
“With [Levesque], I feel his expertise is vital,” Klimek mentioned. “He’s clearly had numerous accomplishments over the previous couple of years.”
For all of the nuanced zoning points at play, quite a few Auburn residents mentioned Wednesday in interviews exterior their houses they merely need a new face within the mayor’s workplace.
These emotions are sometimes uncooked. Levesque is “a nasty man,” mentioned Jim Wellehan, the CEO of the shoe retailer chain Lamey-Wellehan. He added that the Lake Auburn difficulty will damage the mayor, additionally criticizing Levesque for the Metropolis Council’s vote in April to finish Auburn’s recycling program. Levesque needs to restart a pilot program.
“It’s time for change,” Wellehan mentioned.
Levesque mentioned opponents have these points to attempt to defeat him. He touted decrease tax charges amid increased inflation, simplified allowing, a brand new Edward Little Excessive College and the nationwide chains of Goal and Olive Backyard coming to Auburn. Native producers are “kicking ass,” he mentioned.
The county seat of Androscoggin County as soon as held international significance for shoe manufacturing earlier than seeing a lot of its factories shut after World Conflict II, however Levesque pointed to Biden visiting Auburn Manufacturing in late July.
Levesque added he has formidable targets if voters give him two extra years. He needs to “finish generational poverty” within the metropolis by growing homeownership. He needs to see by way of the development of a deliberate new Police Actions League facility and extra learn-to-swim packages to lower drowning incidents within the metropolis.
Within the winter, Levesque fueled hypothesis on his future by saying he was taking a look at increased workplaces down the street. He’s not dealing with time period limits, however he mentioned final week that this might be his fourth and ultimate time period as mayor.
Harmon mentioned he hears from individuals who suppose Levesque sees Auburn as a springboard. The mayor was candid about his plans. He’s taking a look at working for Congress or the governor’s workplace in 2026, with one position extra on his thoughts.
“Is my ability set higher suited to the Blaine Home?” Levesque mentioned. “Yeah.”