The 2020 Lewiston City Council conducts its first meeting Tuesday night. From left: Safiya Khalid, Zack Pettengill, Alicia Rea, Mayor Mark Cayer, Michel Lajoie, Luke Jensen, Lee Clement and Stephanie Gelinas. Andrew Rice/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The City Council approved a minor update to its rental registration program intended to simplify the application process for multifamily property owners, who face a registration deadline of March 1.

The registration program, approved in October 2019 after a lengthy subcommittee process, requires owners of buildings with three or more units to register. The goal is for the city to have up-to-date contact information and other data on its housing stock.

City Administrator Ed Barrett told the council Tuesday night that as the city staff finalizes an application, which will be conducted online, there were issues found that would have made the application “excessively burdensome.”

Barrett said that as written, the application would have required separate information for each rental unit in a building, including the floor it is on, unit number, bedroom count, and whether or not it is occupied.

“For larger properties, this could require a separate line on the application form for each and every unit,” he said.

The amendment passed unanimously Tuesday simplifies the requirement, asking property owners to report the number of floors, number of units by bedroom, (for example: one four-bedroom unit and two two-bedroom units) and the number of vacant units.

“All of this information can be provided on one line of the form,” he said.

While the city opted to move forward with a non-fee-based system, if the city does not receive a registration application, it will potentially move forward with fines.

He said owners of multifamily properties will be receiving letters soon.

When the program was rolled out, it called for funding a new position in the City Clerk’s office, as well as an additional fire inspector position.


5G internet

The City Council also laid the groundwork for new regulations for impending 5G and small cell internet transmitters.

Barrett said the new ordinance lays out the permitting process for telecommunications companies to install high-speed internet transmitters, along with preferences for where they should be located.

He said as larger cities are seeing 5G installations, which can place transmitters every 300 to 500 feet, there have been growing pains with placements and overall aesthetics.

He said that while allowing installation throughout the city is federally mandated, the ordinance says there is a preference that the transmitters be placed on existing utility poles, rather than be located on new poles.

Barrett called the ordinance “a start to regulating this before it gets out of control.”

“This is a first effort,” he said.

While current cell phones mostly run off larger cell towers, 5G will be run from small-cell transmitters.

Most small cell transmitters now in use sit atop telephone poles, including some already in Lewiston that were installed to fill in existing cell service, Barrett said.


Solar energy

Also on Tuesday, the City Council approved amendments to Lewiston’s land use code regarding solar energy systems, which would make it easier for new installations to be approved.

City Planner Doug Greene said many energy companies have approached Lewiston about developing large solar arrays, some between 10 and 20 acres.

He said the updated language would streamline the development review process, but that any proposed project would go to the Planning Board for conditional use and development review applications.

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