LEWISTON — New design guidelines aimed at producing quality developments in the downtown district are expected to reach a public hearing and vote in August, after being in the works for more than a year.

When staff rolled out the “Design Lewiston” project in 2019, officials pointed to the city’s lack of design standards that can be used by the Planning Board or city staff when reviewing and approving new development proposals.

If ultimately approved, 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.”

During a City Council discussion Tuesday, Doug Greene, deputy director of Planning and Code Enforcement, said the Planning Board is expected to hold a public hearing and vote Aug. 24 to adopt the new site plan review and design guidelines.

Greene said the Planning Board will also vote on a proposed zone change that would bring parts of the Tree Streets neighborhood from the Community Business district to Downtown Residential, aimed at encouraging infill development.

He said the change is to meant to create opportunities for developers to build on vacant downtown lots that have previously been unusable. The proposal also offers a series of text amendments to simplify the ordinances, and “reorganize and clarify portions of the ordinance that are confusing.”

“We want to make sure developers are looking at these guidelines,” Greene told the council Tuesday.

He said the Design Lewiston working group tried to “strike a balance” between coming up with simple standards for quality while not overly increasing the potential cost of development.

Mayor Mark Cayer said that from the beginning, he has had concerns about the new standards, given Lewiston’s stagnant 1.9% economic growth in 2019.

“That isn’t sustainable,” he said, adding he now supports the vast majority of the proposal.

But, he said, “If a developer comes in and complains, we need to shift to customer service.”

Cayer said he is still concerned about the potential costs of required landscaping for commercial development.

David Hediger, director of Planning and Code Enforcement, said most developers seek a clear understanding of the requirements, rather than getting last-minute costs added to projects. He said the design standards and updated code elements will help with that.

“They want to know what they signed up for,” he said.

When asked if the standards would allow the city to dictate design elements to a big box store, Greene said the standards are meant for the downtown district only in order to not be overly restrictive citywide. If the elements end up being popular, he said, “they could perhaps be expanded.”

A majority of councilors has been supportive of the proposal since its initial rollout.

Councilor Zack Pettengill recognized the amount of staff time devoted to cleaning up the standards, “having a vision for the future” and making “a difficult process easier.”

“Anything we can do to make the development process smoother and easier for those who come to Lewiston is what we want to do,” Councilor Lee Clement said.

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