Gene Beaudoin, director of retail operations for Saxon Partners, outlines plans for a proposed development at the former Pineland Lumber Co. property on Avon Street, along the Androscoggin River, at a neighborhood meeting Wednesday night at Lewiston City Hall. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — Tempers flared occasionally at City Hall on Wednesday as residents quizzed developers about plans for a 240-unit apartment complex along the Androscoggin River.

Developers said the plan is to lure workers from the nearby hospital — and perhaps a Bates College professor or two — to fill the single-bedroom efficiency apartments.

“Most of these folks are going to walk back and forth to work,” said Gene Beaudoin, director of retail for Saxon Partners, the Massachusetts group behind the plan.

Beaudoin said if the apartment complex is built, the area should see less traffic and fewer parking problems than when the site was home to Pineland Lumber, which sat on about 6 acres at 10 Avon St.

A few longtime residents were not buying it.

“I’ve lived there since 1974,” said Matt Roy, who lives on Winter Street, near the proposed site, “and I disagree.”

Pineland Lumber presented few disruptions to the tranquility of the area, said Roy and other neighbors. They suspect bringing in people to fill 240 apartments all at once will completely disrupt their neighborhood.

As dozens of residents listen, Matt Roy, standing at the lectern, explains his concerns Wednesday night about a 240-unit apartment complex proposed for Lewiston. (Mark LaFlamme/Sun Journal)

“This is going to make it worse,” Roy said. “I guarantee it.”

When pressed, developers agreed that when the lumber company was in operation, there had never been a traffic study in the area. However, Beaudoin stressed that the efficiency apartment complex would be built to accommodate mostly single people, many of them nurses.

Parking would be limited to two vehicles per apartment, and few children, if any, would live in the building.

They presented an image of a neat, quiet apartment complex filled with mostly nurses, but not everyone was convinced. Several people who attended the meeting said they own buildings and have been renting apartments in the neighborhood for decades. Not once, they said, had they ever rented to a nurse or other hospital worker.

Roughly three dozen people showed up for the neighborhood meeting. Many were worried that the local real estate market would suffer severe imbalances because of 240 apartments being put on the market all at once.

“I can’t believe that it’s not going to eventually affect rents for existing landlords,” said Steve Morgan, who said he has been renting homes and apartments in Lewiston for 30 years.

Kay Shafer is one of those landlords. At 64, she said she has sunk all of her savings into buying buildings and offering apartments for rent in the neighborhood near Central Maine Medical Center.

“These buildings are my retirement,” she said. “I’ve put everything into them.”

A concept design for the proposed development along Avon Street shows two 105-unit buildings along the Androscoggin River, and a 35-unit building across Avon Street. (City of Lewiston)

Like Morgan, Shafer thought it would be better for everyone if Saxon introduced its apartments in phases to lessen the impact on the local market.

“Wouldn’t it be good to do it incrementally, so you don’t damage the market?” Shafer said. “It certainly would be better for the rest of us.”

The longer the meeting went on, the more concerns the audience seemed to have. Residents said they feared a massive influx of people creating problems that would spill over into nearby neighborhoods. They were troubled by the idea that such a large apartment complex might draw in unsavory elements, such as prostitution, street drugs and crime.

Some wondered why the plan calls for so many new apartments in an area not necessarily in need of them. Others pressed planners on what they plan to charge for rent.

Developers stressed it is early in the planning phase and a lot of answers were not available.

“This is really the very beginning of the project,” said Lincoln Jeffers, Lewiston’s director of economic and community development.

“We’re months away from any decisions on anything,” said Doug Greene, the city’s deputy of planning and code enforcement.

Roy, who said he has lived in the area near the proposed site his entire life, stepped up to the lectern and insisted a way of life for hundreds in the neighborhood would be disrupted if the plan happens.

“It’s nice and quiet, and we like it that way,” he said. “I hope this doesn’t go through.”

Returning to his seat, Roy accused the developers of failing to provide answers to many questions raised at the meeting. That point seemed to raise the ire of Beaudoin, the Saxon representative tasked with contending with public input.

“You question my veracity as if you have experience with Saxon,” Beaudoin said. “And I don’t think you do.”

Roy, on the other side of the room, shouted back his claim that developers had failed to address most questions and that they had offered answers that were vague at best.

Before the meeting ended, developers reminded the residents the Saxon apartment complex is far from a done deal. There are still zoning issues to be resolved, plans to be examined and many more meetings to be held.

Roy said he plans to be at any public meetings that are held so he can continue to voice his opposition.

“This is my neighborhood,” he said. “I grew up here. You’re not going to come here from Massachusetts and say: ‘Hey, this is how things are. This is what you’re going to do.'”

A concept design for the proposed development along Avon Street shows two 105-unit buildings along the Androscoggin River, and a 35-unit building across Avon Street. (City of Lewiston) 

As dozens of residents listen, Matt Roy, standing at the lectern, explains his concerns Wednesday night about a 240-unit apartment complex proposed for Lewiston. (Mark LaFlamme/Sun Journal)


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