While most buildings in downtown Lewiston have recessed windows, the Hartley Block, left, does not and the city is considering making it mandatory for new construction to match the existing designs. At right is the Professional Building on Lisbon Street. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — The City Council got its first look at a proposed set of design standards that officials are hoping will “raise the bar” for downtown development.

The updated site plan review and design guidelines, known as Design Lewiston, have been in the works since April 2019, and are intended to give developers more specific criteria for new buildings.

According to Doug Greene, deputy director of planning and code enforcement, Lewiston falls short in requiring much of anything in terms of building design.

In a presentation at a City Council workshop Tuesday, Greene said the city has no design standards that can be used by the Planning Board or staff when reviewing and approving new development proposals. As a result, he said, any desired site or building design improvements to developments are negotiated, not required.

“The current development review process frequently results in unpredictable, unattractive projects that are out of character with their surroundings,” his memo states.

If ultimately approved by the council, new projects in the downtown district would be required to follow a series of exterior building standards for entrances and windows, parking access and design, landscaping and an overall design that shows “compatibility and harmony with surrounding buildings.”

The changes also propose a citywide requirement of trees and landscaping in front of parking lots along major streets.

According to Greene, the update of the city’s site plan review and design guidelines would become a “how-to manual for developers and citizens,” and would also result in changes to the zoning ordinance and a new development review application.

The design districts downtown would be labeled as Riverfront, Mill, Centreville and Downtown Residential, the latter of which would be expanded to the entire Tree Streets neighborhood.

Greene said the “manual” for developers will be a mix of design recommendations “that encourage
efficient, well designed projects,” and district standards that lay out “graphic descriptions of the required design elements.”

Greene said many are deemed basic that are often expected of developers, but that “it doesn’t always happen.”

During the workshop discussion, councilors were supportive of the proposal.

Councilor Luke Jensen, who lives in the Tree Streets neighborhood, said he’s excited that it will be included in the new design districts, and for the prospect of implementing design standards that can better attract young professionals.

“More green space and an emphasis on walkability are all things that a 29-year-old like me are probably going to look for,” he said.

The Comprehensive Plan and Riverfront Island Master Plan both call for creating new design regulations for Lewiston, and funding budgeted for implementing the plan was used last year to hire a consultant, Stantec, that worked with an advisory committee to draft the standards.

Councilor Zack Pettengill asked whether the new design standards were ever considered for the rest of the city.

Greene said that between Stantec and the committee, there was considerable discussion about where to apply the new standards, including the city’s commercial corridors, but that ultimately the committee decided it would be “too much” to go from virtually no standards to wholesale citywide changes.

While most buildings in downtown Lewiston have recessed windows, the Hartley Block, left, does not and the city is considering making it mandatory for new construction to match the existing designs. At right is the Professional Building on Lisbon Street. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Pettengill said he’d like the city to at least come up with a timeline to expand the standards to the rest of the city.

Dave Hediger, director of planning and code enforcement, called the initiative “new territory” for city staff, and that those involved in the process wanted to be careful about adding standards that might impede new development.

“There’s going to be some inherent costs with what’s being discussed here, but we want to raise the bar. We want to have better quality, and a better return,” he said. “But, I think we have to approach it somewhat incrementally.”

Greene provided examples of downtown design that is considered favorable, while pointing out buildings that don’t follow standards that encourage walkable streets. He showed the council images of Lisbon Street, with the old building facades with entrances to businesses off the sidewalk, and he compared it to buildings like the newer 475 Lisbon St., which does not have an entrance facing Lisbon Street.

He said a lack of recessed windows on the new Hartley Block building on Lisbon Street has been criticized since it was built, compared to many downtown buildings that feature them.

He also showed the council a photo of a building with a large blank, windowless wall stretching along the length of a block, which he said would be prohibited in the new design code.

Greene said in the coming weeks, the Design Lewiston advisory committee and Planning Board will conduct a final review before the Planning Board hosts a public hearing on the amendments.

Then the changes will go to the City Council for a vote.


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