The empty lot at the corner of Blake and Pine streets in Lewiston where several buildings were destroyed by a 2013 fire could soon be developed. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

LEWISTON — Members of the Planning Board approved a contract rezoning this week to allow a 35-unit mixed-income housing development on Blake and Pine streets.

Or they thought they did.

After voting 6-1 Monday to forward the Avesta Housing project to the City Council, planning officials Thursday said the public hearing and vote will have to be held again because the city failed to send proper notice to abutters.

Planning and Code Enforcement Director David Hediger said the issue did not come to staff’s attention until after the public hearing.

“In an effort to make sure due process is adhered to and followed, the Planning Board must hold a second public hearing, essentially providing the public and board another opportunity to consider the rezoning request,” he said in an email to members of the Planning Board and Avesta officials.

The next public hearing will be held Monday, March 11. The Planning Board vote is an official recommendation to the City Council, which ultimately approves the contract zone.

Avesta, an affordable housing developer based in Portland, is proposing to build 35 units on an empty lot at 111 Blake St. and 82 Pine St., the site of a fire in 2013 that destroyed multiple buildings. According to the proposal, seven units would be market-rate and 28 would be income-restricted to renters at 50 percent and 60 percent of the area’s median income.

The building would be three floors with a lower-level parking area and would include 15 one-bedroom units, 14 two-bedroom units, and six three-bedroom units, according to the proposal.

While the project gained the support of the Planning Board, at least three members of the public said Monday they were concerned about the level of density proposed, which is the main reason for the contract rezoning.

The two properties, totaling 0.33 acres, are in the Downtown Residential zone, which only allows a density of one unit per 1,250 square feet of lot area. Avesta is pursuing a density of one unit per 400 square feet. Part of Avesta’s request, and the subsequent support from city staff, comes from the fact that the property is roughly 120 feet from the Centreville district, which allows a similar density level.

Catherine Elliott, the development officer for Avesta, said the current zoning wouldn’t allow the density that existed in the previous buildings that were on the site. She said that of the multiunit buildings within 200 feet of the parcel, only 34 percent comply with current zoning standards.

She said the area is “downtown in nature,” just a block from Kennedy Park, and less than a quarter-mile from five bus lines.

“We’re here because we believe in safe and affordable housing for people of all income levels, and this has been identified as a need by both the comprehensive plan and numerous community organizations,” she said.

Beth Matthews of Bradley Street said she was concerned about the potential impact on Lewiston schools and parking.

Elliott said Avesta is projecting about 80 residents living in the complex. There would be 24 parking spaces on site, with parking also allotted at the Oak Street parking garage.

Steve Kottler of White Street said, “How many people can be squeezed into that small of a space?”

Maura Murphy, also of White Street, said, “I believe we have a pretty large amount of subsidized housing already. I don’t understand the wisdom of almost doubling the density allowed in this area, and not providing enough parking.”

Benjamin Martin, who provided the lone vote against the project, said the proposed density is tripling what would be allowed in the zone. He added that despite city staff’s arguments for why the project lines up with the comprehensive plan, staff didn’t include ways in which the project goes against the plan.

Martin said the lack of parking and the high density were the main reasons he didn’t support it.

According to Misty Parker, the economic development specialist in Lewiston, Avesta is seeking financial assistance through affordable housing tax-increment financing, and $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.

According to city records, 82 Pine St. was last owned by landlord Chris Aceto, and 111 Blake St. was owned by landlord Norman Rousseau. Both properties had buildings that were demolished following a series of fires in 2013 that destroyed nine buildings in the downtown over a span of eight days.

City staff said the project is consistent with the comprehensive plan, including its stated goals of providing “a greater range of housing choices to meet the needs of young adults, families, renters, seniors, immigrants, refugees and people of different income levels.”

Two representatives from the Center for Wisdom’s Women, a social services organization on Blake Street, spoke in support of Avesta’s project.

If the contract zone passes its second Planning Board test March 11, it would appear on the March 19 council agenda, Hediger said.

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