LEWISTON — The city agreed Tuesday to help Community Concepts demolish several unsafe buildings, part of the multiphase “transformation plan” redevelopment project in the downtown.

The nonprofit Community Concepts, a partner with the city in the plan, recently purchased properties at 107 Bartlett St., 119 Bartlett St. and 43 Walnut St. that it plans to demolish and redevelop.

City officials argued that due to the condition of the buildings and the likelihood that redevelopment will not occur immediately, the buildings should be taken down immediately to prevent a public health risk.

The three properties are part of an ambitious plan to redevelop almost an entire block between Pine and Bartlett streets, resulting in 60 new units and four renovated units.

The plan was the result of a yearlong Choice Neighborhood community planning effort through a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, designed to revitalize struggling neighborhoods.

L-A Community Housing, the development subsidiary of Community Concepts, has acquired multiple properties downtown, labeled “replacement sites” that will be redeveloped prior to the redevelopment of Maple Knoll on Maple Street.

The City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to spend $135,000 toward the demolitions on Bartlett and Walnut streets, as well as using a tipping fee credit with ReVision Energy that allows the city to dispose of thousands of tons of wood debris.

Misty Parker, economic development manager for Lewiston, said that applying for the Choice Neighborhood implementation funds is a year away, meaning the “need to take down the dangerous housing is pressing.”

While the majority of the council was in favor, Councilor Michael Marcotte argued that Community Concepts should be “taking responsibility” for the properties, and that the city should not be using taxpayer dollars to demolish the buildings.

“The current owners should be finding another source other than the Lewiston taxpayers,” he said.

Others pointed out that Lewiston’s Acquisition and Demolition account sits at over $1 million, and is frequently used on properties that have no responsible owners, while Community Concepts is a development partner in a planned redevelopment.

Councilor Zack Pettengill said he was less worried about the funding and more concerned for the vacant lots becoming an “eyesore” downtown, which he said is a frequent result of demolition.

Shanna Cox, who worked closely on the Choice Neighborhood plan, said there is often criticism over building more housing downtown without addressing or removing unsafe housing.

“This is an opportunity for change,” she said, adding that many downtown stakeholders would be interested in temporarily “activating” the vacant lots until the redevelopment takes place.

Cox said that could mean public art, landscaping or other uses. Another resident suggested the lot be used for a dog park.

Pettengill said the future project to beautify the land could “bring people together in positive ways” and will “bring value back to the community.”

Blake and Pine TIF

Also on Tuesday, the City Council approved a tax-increment financing district and joint development agreement with Avesta Housing and other partners toward the development of a 35-unit housing project on the corner of Blake and Pine streets.

Officials said that the TIF was requested to offset considerable site work needed at the property.

According to Lincoln Jeffers, director of Economic and Community Development, some $575,000 in site work will be needed to remove an underground storage tank and soil contaminants at the property, which was the site of a fire in 2013. Jeffers said it’s a $7.4 million project.

The TIF district will return 50% of the new taxes generated within the district to the developer for of 15 years, with the other 50% going to the city.

It’s estimated that the developer and city will each receive $22,253 annually, and $333,796 over the TIF term. The original assessed value of the TIF district was roughly $47,000.

The 35 apartments will be made up of 15 one-bedroom units, 14 two-bedroom, and six three-bedroom units. Seven units will be market rate, with the remaining units held for renters between 50% and 60% of average median income.

Officials from Community Concepts, which is a partner in the project, said it is part of a much larger picture as the city looks to revitalize the downtown.

The City Council voted 5-2 to approve the TIF, with councilors Marcotte and Pettengill opposed.

Marcotte said he didn’t believe TIFs should be used for housing, and that the return to the city does not cover the cost of city services for the new residents.

“We don’t need to open our arms to more impact to our treasury and tax rate,” he said.

Councilor Jim Lysen said the TIF was needed “in order to get this project going,” given the difficulty of the site.

“TIFs have been controversial within this council, but I don’t think this one is at all,” he said.

Continental Mill

The council also voted unanimously to give a nod of approval to a contract rezoning for the Continental Mill on Cedar Street, forwarding the issue to the Planning Board.

The new owner of the mill, Chinburg Properties, seeks to return the mill’s zoning to the mill district after the property had reverted back to the riverfront district.

David Hediger, director of Planning and Code Enforcement, said the Mill district will “broaden opportunities to use the entire building,” and that the contract rezone will allow all uses currently allowed in the mill district, plus some allowed in riverfront.

New Hampshire-based developer Eric Chinburg bought the 560,000-square-foot mill at auction in May with a $650,000 bid.

Chinburg Properties specializes in redeveloping mills, with Maine projects in Biddeford, Saco and Westbrook.

In May, Chinburg said he envisions a mixed-use project of mostly market-rate apartments, with a mix of retail, light-industrial, commercial and office uses.