LEWISTON — City officials got their first look Tuesday at a proposal for a 35-unit Avesta Housing development on Pine and Blake streets downtown. 

According to a memo to the City Council, the mixed-income development would be built on a vacant slice of land between 82 Pine St. and 111 Blake St., but would need a contract rezoning to allow greater density and reduced parking requirements. 

Avesta Housing is an affordable housing developer based in Portland with dozens of properties in Maine and New Hampshire. 

The City Council was set to hear the initial proposal during a brief workshop Tuesday but did not take any formal action. 

According to Misty Parker, economic development specialist in Lewiston, Avesta is also seeking financial assistance through affordable housing tax increment financing, as well as $325,000 in federal HOME funds, a Department of Housing and Urban Development program. Both sources of funding are routinely used to finance affordable housing projects. 

Of the 35 units proposed, Avesta plans to build 15 one-bedroom units, 14 two-bedroom units, and six three-bedroom units, according to a memo from Parker. Seven units are anticipated to be market rate and 28 would be income restricted to 50 percent and 60 percent of area median income.

The property would feature 25 parking spaces, with additional parking available at the nearby Oak Street parking garage. 

According to Parker, the total project cost is estimated at $7 million. Avesta has applied for low-income housing tax credits through Maine Housing and funding through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. If successful with both applications, she said, the additional funding through a TIF and HOME funds “will still be required to fill a gap in the development budget and cover operating expenses for the project.”

She said for the contract rezoning, Avesta is working with Lewiston Planning & Code staff, and “will be before the council at a later date to discuss the contract rezone petition.” 

According to city records, 82 Pine St. was last owned by ASM Properties, LLC, and 111 Blake St. was owned by RUSO, LLC. Both had properties that were condemned and demolished. 

GRANT FOR UPGRADES 

The City Council also got a first look Tuesday at a $125,000 grant opportunity from the John T. Gorman Foundation, which would support “early action” upgrades to the downtown Tree Streets neighborhood as part of the city’s ongoing Choice Neighborhood grant process. 

According to Parker, the initial funding would go toward adding street trees, additional holiday lighting for Kennedy Park, and possibly a porch lighting program.

About $40,000 of the Gorman Foundation grant would be used to develop a “smart infrastructure strategy for the area,” which could include the next phase of LED lighting downtown. Parker said with that lighting comes the potential for expanding broadband access with options such as free Wi-Fi, video monitoring, gunshot detection, traffic signal automation and other possibilities. 

Lewiston recently became the first city in Maine to be awarded a Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The main purpose of the program is to plan and eventually implement major housing improvements in the neighborhood, and also include green space redevelopment projects. The program also aims to bring residents into the process, which has led to smaller community projects such as public art and a community garden. 

At recent pop-up feedback sessions in the neighborhood tied to the grant process, residents named neighborhood lighting as a concern.  

According to Parker, resident feedback led to “two key ideas to light up the Tree Streets neighborhood,” including the addition of “fun accent lighting to Kennedy Park” for the holiday season, and a porch light project.

“We are working with public works to explore additional lighting opportunities in and around Kennedy Park for the holidays and winter season. There are many challenges to adding lighting given the existing infrastructure within the park, so other opportunities may need to be explored,” she said. 

The John T. Gorman Foundation’s mission is to improve the lives of disadvantaged people in Maine. The organization is a partner in the city’s downtown planning efforts. 

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