LEWISTON — Voters will decide the fate of a subsidized housing project in November, councilors agreed Tuesday.

Councilors agreed to put property owner Phyllis St. Laurent’s 29-unit housing development on the Nov. 4 municipal ballot. The council approved the downtown project in April, but a group of local landlords gathered enough signatures to challenge it.

Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau said councilors had three options: schedule a special election in September, schedule a city ballot to coincide with Maine’s gubernatorial vote in November or rescind their initial approval.

Councilors unanimously approved putting the matter on the November ballot.

“I continue to stand strongly behind our vote,” Councilor Kristen Cloutier said. “I am disappointed in some of the misrepresentations that went into collecting signatures for the petition and I want to really encourage voters to get the facts before they vote.”

St. Laurent’s buildings at 149 Bartlett St. and 110 and 114 Pierce St. were destroyed in a rash of arson fires in May 2013.

St. Laurent plans to replace those lost units with a single development consisting of a mix of single-bedroom units, two-bedroom units and larger apartments.

St. Laurent is working with the 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 intended for families making 60 percent of the median income. That would be about $33,700 for a family of four.

Landlords who oppose the project, led by Stanley Pelletier, had to collect 859 valid signatures to challenge the council’s decision, and they collected at least 867. Pelletier said in May he feared the project would increase pressure on downtown parking and city services.

Only supporters of St. Laurent’s development spoke to councilors Tuesday.

Melissa Dunn, a member of the Neighborhood Housing League, said that despite what Pelletier’s supporters claimed while gathering signatures, St. Laurent would pay $40,000 in property taxes to the city each year, and part of that would be put into a fund to help other small landlords renovate their property.

“His petition shifts part of the bill onto Lewiston residents by attempting to repeal the project,” Dunn said. “Keep in mind that the tax-revenue loss from the fires would be added to the property tax increase to all Lewiston property taxpayers to make up for the losses of the fires of 2013 and 2014.”

Former Mayor Larry Gilbert said the city needs to rebuild on the burned lots and on other vacant spaces downtown.

“How do we want to project our city?” Gilbert said. “Do we want to show dilapidated buildings and vacant lots, or show a city that is moving forward with new, multi-unit buildings?”

Councilors were right to support the plan, Gilbert said.

“You, the council, did the the right thing,” he said. “You voted to support this project and I think it’s important that you listen to the people who testified, and you did the right thing. Unfortunately, some people, for their own personal interests, are interested at a cost. I find it sad that this occurs, but I’m hopeful when it comes to a vote the citizens of Lewiston will do the right thing.”

Ballot costs

City Clerk Kathy Montejo said cost was a factor in the question of when to vote. Scheduling the vote in September would be less expensive, since the city could count on fewer voters, could use plain paper ballots and open a single polling place. She estimated a September vote would cost about $1,500.

Putting the matter on November’s ballot would mean the city would have to make special ballots programmed for the city’s tallying machines and polls at all four polling places. She estimated the municipal ballot would cost about $4,000.

However, that cost could be shared with a proposed marijuana legalization ballot. Backers of that measure are still collecting signatures to get a spot on the city ballot, she said. They have until Aug. 8.

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