LEWISTON — A group of landlords hope to challenge the city's approval of a low-income housing project downtown.
"We already have a lot of low-income property, and this won't contribute to our tax base," Darcy Reed, who owns two units downtown, said.
"Just as a taxpayer, this concerns me," Reed said. "Even if I were not a landlord, I'd still be fired up about this."
Reed is also running for the City Council seat in Ward 4, challenging incumbent Doreen Christ.
Councilors narrowly approved a plan on Sept. 17 by Volunteers of America to build a housing development on four lots where buildings burned May 3, at 110 and 114 Pierce St. and 145 and 149 Bartlett St.
Reed was among a group of landlords that spoke against the project at the City Council's meeting. She said private local landlords who are struggling financially can't provide tenants the amenities the project would offer, but can't match low rents the project would charge.
Reed is collecting signatures to put the matter to a referendum. She needs to collect 10 signatures on a sheet at the Lewiston City Clerk's office to be granted a full petition. She'll have 60 days to collect 859 signature if the petition is released.
"The biggest issue is all of the exceptions and tax breaks they are looking to get on the land," Reed said. "It's going to cost us a lot of tax money, but it is really unnecessary."
City Clerk Kathy Montejo said the city's attorney was reviewing Reed's proposal to make sure it is valid.
The project would replace buildings burned in a downtown blaze on May 3.
Councilors voted 4-3 at their Sept. 17 meeting to invest about $150,000 in the project. That includes the $72,694 the city has already spent cleaning up the site and demolishing the burned-out properties.
With Councilor Don D'Auteuil absent from the meeting, Councilors John Butler, Nate Libby, Craig Saddlemire and Mark Cayer voted in favor. Councilors Doreen Christ, Richard Desjardins and Mayor Robert Macdonald voted against it.
According to the proposed deal, the city would convey the properties to Volunteers of America Northern New England at no cost. The council also agreed to waive all development and building permit fees on the project — about $17,400 according to City staff — and to create a 15-year Tax Increment Finance District. That would rebate about half of the property taxes Volunteers of America would pay on the development.
If the project qualifies for tax credits from Maine Housing, it could be ready for tenants by 2015. It would have 30 housing units — 14 two-bedroom units, 11 three-bedroom units and five four-bedroom units. One unit would be set aside for an on-site property manager. The rest would be available to Section 8 voucher recipients.