LEWISTON — Following an initial rollout of the plan in June, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to adopt the Choice Neighborhood transformation plan, a comprehensive redevelopment effort focused on the downtown and “Tree Streets” neighborhood.

Leading up to the vote, the council chamber was standing-room only as residents and volunteers who worked to develop the plan came to voice support.

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

Many on Tuesday said it will go a long way toward addressing housing and other perennial issues in the downtown, including lead poisoning.

Those who spoke in favor of the plan included Lewiston Superintendent of Schools Todd Finn, who said implementation of the plan will coincide with positive changes at the school department.

Finn said a large number of the district’s students live on the Tree Streets, which, with the highest rate of childhood lead poisoning in the state, contributes to student performance.

“The school system supports this 1,000 percent,” he said, adding that he has set a goal for the department of having a 90 percent graduation rate by 2022.

Those involved in crafting the plan have pointed to the number of community partners and stakeholders invested in its many strategies for addressing neighborhood challenges.

The 250-page plan envisions wholesale changes made through new and redeveloped housing, beautification projects and a focus on safety, health and education.

Misty Parker, economic development manager in Lewiston, said in a memo to the council that more than $2 million has already been invested in the neighborhood as a result of the planning process.

About $1.3 million, she said, has been invested in private properties, which will account for the plan’s major redevelopment sites — a 66-unit, mixed-use development on Pine Street along Kennedy Park and a 64-unit, family-oriented redevelopment along Pine and Bartlett streets.

Lewiston was among only three cities in the country to be awarded the planning grant, along with Los Angeles and Philadelphia. It made Lewiston the first city of its size to take part, which organizers said led to a “grassroots” community effort.

“We must find ways to break the cycle of poverty,” said School Committee Chairman Mark Cayer. “This isn’t just a housing plan. It holds stakeholders accountable.”

Jen Hogan, president of Community Credit Union on Pine Street, said that five years ago, the company reconsidered a decision to leave the downtown. Hogan said they decided to stay, “stop complaining about the environment around us” and get involved. It was the start of the group’s relationship with Healthy Neighborhoods, a major partner in the plan.

Craig Saddlemire, coordinator of the Raise-Op Housing Cooperative and a member of the Healthy Neighborhoods planning council, said the transformation plan “challenged everyone to step out of their comfort zones.” He said that meant neighbors came together from different backgrounds and cultures, and involved various organizations and developers.

Mayor Kristen Cloutier said a full chamber “really speaks to the engagement in the community. Only one other time in my six years I’ve seen the chamber this full.”

She said there were “few things we’ve done as a council I’ve felt this excited about supporting.”

Although applause isn’t allowed in the council chamber, a burst of cheers followed the unanimous vote.

The entire transformation plan can be viewed on the city’s website.

City bans smoking in parks

The City Council also voted unanimously Tuesday to prohibit the use of tobacco products in all city parks and recreational areas.

Following an initial plea to ban smoking in Dufresne Plaza, a popular downtown park, officials moved forward with the ban covering all parks.

Lyanna Hawkins told the council Tuesday that the new measure will be difficult to enforce, and that she didn’t agree with extending the ban to all parks. She said she understood wanting to ban smoking at playgrounds and recreational areas, but not in outdoor parks where adults can spend a quiet moment.

David Dubord, who originally brought the issue to the council, said several other Maine municipalities have banned smoking in parks, including Portland, Saco and Brunswick.

The fine structure will be $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense and $300 for a third.

Rental registration

Also on Tuesday, the council passed a first reading of an ordinance requiring all multi-family buildings to join a city registry starting in 2020.

Officials, voting unanimously, called the ordinance a compromise after years of discussions on a potential rental registration program in Lewiston, which supporters have said would provide the city with up-to-date contact information and other necessary data to boost communication with code enforcement and safety efforts.

A committee put in place by former Mayor Shane Bouchard spent 10 months studying such a program, finally recommending to the council that the city enact a non-fee-based registration requirement for all multi-family buildings.

Councilor Michael Marcotte said Tuesday the final recommendation from the committee was unanimous, “despite differences” of opinion from its members, which showed a “good compromise.”

Multi-family buildings are defined as having three or more dwelling units.

According to a council memo, the owner, business operator or property manager will submit a registration application for each multi-family building before March 1 of each year.

Any person failing to register a multi-family building will be subject to a civil penalty enforced by the code enforcement office and a fine as established by the City Council.

Those fines have not yet been set, but a note from City Administrator Ed Barrett said the suggested fines of $50 per month for the first month and $100 per month for the next months up to the sixth month. It would then increase to $200 per month.


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