LEWISTON — The former site of Pineland Lumber Co. on the Androscoggin River could soon be home to more than 200 apartments.
The Planning Board on Monday was set to receive its first look at the development proposal from Massachusetts-based Saxon Partners, which would place 240 single-bedroom efficiency apartments at the property off Avon Street.
According to city planning staff, the developers will market the units to medical staff and other employees at Central Maine Medical Center.
The preliminary plan shows two, four-story buildings along the river with 100 units each, and a third building across Avon Street with 40 units. The apartments would be market-rate.
However, Doug Greene, the city’s deputy of planning and code enforcement, said the project is just an initial concept and is “far from a done deal.” A neighborhood meeting is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 3, at City Hall, and the city is sending letters to abutters Tuesday, he said.
“It’s still early. We want to have more discussion about the physical makeup,” he said, adding that city staff still haven’t seen some key details. “Do we want to see 275-foot-long buildings? Maybe not.”
He said they also haven’t had detailed discussions about a contract rezoning, which would be required for the development based on its proposed density. Staff will discuss a possible timeline for the contract rezoning, which could require a special meeting in early November.
Greene said the purpose of getting an initial discussion on the Planning Board agenda prior to a neighborhood meeting was to expose the board to the project and get some early thoughts.
The design shows a parking lot behind the two main buildings with 252 parking spaces, and another 46-space lot at the smaller apartment building.
While the scale of the development may be a focus for the Planning Board, Greene said city officials may also push for expanded recreational and community uses on the property given its proximity to the river, particularly a major section of the riverwalk.
The section could be a key part of a larger plan to connect the downtown to Sunnyside Park via the riverwalk.
“It’s a planned community amenity and we want to talk more about it,” he said.
Saxon Partners has a lengthy list of projects, including mostly retail and some residential developments, but has recently touted a new program developing workforce housing for medical employees.
The company is in the middle of discussions on a similar 250-unit proposal in Augusta, near MaineGeneral Medical Center.
Just recently the company posted a job opening for a “multi-family real estate director of development,” to focus on “the ground-up development of multi-family properties.”
Officials from Saxon were not immediately available Monday because of meetings with Lewiston officials, but Donald Smith, a partner at Saxon, told the Augusta City Council recently that the apartments “are designed specifically for employees, most notably hospital employees,” not families with children.
“We’ve been running around the Northeast, and South and Midwest, finding sites near hospitals where we think there is a shortage of workforce housing,” Smith told Augusta officials.
Greene said it’s part of a housing trend for smaller units and efficiency apartments.
“We’re excited about it, but we want it to be done right,” he said. “We’re looking forward to getting input from the neighborhood.”
The former Pineland Lumber Co. land at 10 Avon St. is roughly 6 acres. The property is zoned urban enterprise and resource conservation. Nearby residential streets include Holland, Winter and Bridge.
After its closure, the assets of Pineland Lumber Co. were purchased by Hammond Lumber in 2010. The site is known for its large “Pineland Lumber” sign highly visible from the Auburn side of the river.