The former Pineland Lumber Co., foreground, along the banks of the Androscoggin River in Lewiston may be developed into 245 single-bedroom efficiency apartments that would be market rate. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

LEWISTON — The developers behind a proposed 245-unit apartment complex received approval Tuesday for a rezoning of the former Pineland Lumber Co. property on Avon Street.

The total project has an estimated cost of between $30 million and $35 million.

The contract zone, approved unanimously by the City Council, combines three properties on 6.8 acres. It allows a higher density of residents than the current zone would.

On the larger riverfront land, the developer is proposing two, four-story buildings with 105 units each. Across the street there would be another building with 35 units.

All the units would be either studio or one-bedroom apartments catered toward staff at Central Maine Medical Center on Main Street and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center on Campus Avenue.

The decision Tuesday paves the way for Massachusetts-based developer Saxon Partners to head into the site design and approval process, which city officials said would address a number of concerns posed by residents at previous meetings.

“I want the public to know this is just the stage of rezoning,” Councilor Jim Lysen said Tuesday, adding that “a lot of issues have been brought up and noted.”

Among the concerns from neighbors are parking and traffic, as well as the economic viability of the proposal. No one from the public spoke Tuesday.

Saxon is pursuing three such projects in Maine — in Augusta, Lewiston and Biddeford — but has yet to build one. At least a few residents said during a Planning Board public hearing last month that they are concerned that should the business model not hold up, the complex would be used for low-income apartments.

Brian Leahy, director of acquisitions for Saxon, told city officials Tuesday that the units will be geared toward medical staff but will be “open to anyone willing to pay market rate.”

Leahy said there’s more than 4,000 staff between the two hospitals, adding, “We believe there’s a need for this type of housing.”

Leahy previously said the developers have shown results in working directly with hospitals, with some hospitals establishing a relationship with Saxon. He said some have contracted directly with the group to provide housing to employees.

“Central Maine Healthcare has expressed support for the Avon Street project to Saxon Partners, contingent upon an impact analysis that would show minimal disruption for our patients, staff and visitors to the Central Maine Medical Center Campus,” hospital spokeswoman Kate Carlisle said Tuesday. “The project as described is likely to boost economic development in Lewiston, and CMH welcomes Saxon Partners as a stakeholder in the community.”

Carlisle said hospital administration has not had any specific discussions on housing options for employees, but added, “we’re committed to recruiting and hiring full-time employees who want to live locally. So any housing development that could potentially provide more options would offer the opportunity for alignment.”

Lincoln Jeffers, director of Economic and Community Development, said there isn’t a firm date for when Saxon will be back to the Planning Board for project approval. He said the company needed the zoning in place to be able to go forward with the cost of architectural and engineering for development review.

City Administrator Ed Barrett said the city is looking at street and sidewalk improvements in the Avon Street neighborhood for the project, and will ask the City Council to create a tax increment financing zone for the infrastructure costs.

The project as proposed would result in about $775,000 in taxes annually, and would provide an easement for a second water connection to Lewiston, as well as an easement for eventually extending the riverwalk.

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