LEWISTON — People rebuild when what they own gets destroyed in a fire, and Phyllis St. Laurent insists that’s all she’s trying to do, but groups of landlords are circulating a petition seeking to overturn the city’s approval of her project before she gets started.

“I thought, when (my buildings) burned down, there would be no problem replacing them,” she said. “I thought people would be sympathetic toward the people who lost everything and their homes. I was devastated — it’s taken me six months to recover from this — but there were real people hurt in this and we’re trying to give them their homes back.”

St. Laurent said she’s ready to hire an architect to design a 29-unit apartment building to be built where her buildings stood. Her buildings, at 149 Bartlett St. and 110 and 114 Pierce St., were among 10 buildings destroyed in a rash of fires downtown in April and May 2013.

The landlords opposed to her project misunderstand much about it, she said. For example, the project would have four-bedroom apartments but more single-bedroom and two-bedroom units.

“The project has not even been designed yet,” she said. “We haven’t hired an architect. We haven’t even determined the complete number of parking spaces we’ll have, but they’ve already decided it won’t be enough.”

St. Laurent is working with Developers Collaborative, a group that has built projects in Lewiston before. It would be a $5 million project with subsidized rents and federal Section 8 housing vouchers tied to the development. The project would be aimed at families making 60 percent of the median income — about $33,700 for a family of four.

It’s the second project proposed for that site since the fires and both have proven to be controversial.

Councilors approved a plan last summer from Volunteers of America Northern New England that ultimately fell apart after the developer had problems getting control of the land.

According to that proposal, the city would have given the properties to the developers, would have waived fees on the project and created a 15-year Tax Increment Financing District.

Local landlords objected, saying they preferred city support go to local developers.

St. Laurent said that’s exactly what she is.

“I have been a landlord in Lewiston for 52 years, and bought and sold things over the years, but not in the last 30 years,” she said. “I’ve had this project for the last 31 and I have a long list of tenants who have lived there, who continued to live there or have relatives who lived there.”

According to the city developers’ agreement, the project also creates a fund to let the city help other, smaller landlords pay for repairs to their properties. According to city estimates, the project would pay about $37,000 in property taxes each year when the work is finished. Half of those property taxes would go into that fund, via a tax-increment financing agreement.

“People are acting like this is a new project, but it’s not,” St. Laurent said. “These were existing apartments with existing tenants who have been burned out and relocated temporarily. And they are waiting for this to be built so they can move back.”

The group of landlords, led by Stan Pelletier and members of the Lewiston-Auburn Landlord Association, need 859 signatures to overrule the City Council’s decision and put the matter before Lewiston voters.

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