LEWISTON — A series of changes to the city’s land use code related to the monthslong “Design Lewiston” project have been delayed while members of the city staff review the final language.

The project, which puts a number of design standards in place for new downtown development, was given initial approval by the City Council on Sept. 2, but officials were asked Tuesday to delay a second reading until October.

The design standards for downtown buildings will still likely be implemented, but specific ordinance language may change to reflect state law, according to city employees.

Members of the city planning staff said a legal review of the proposed changes by the city attorney raised questions concerning “variances and modifications of space and bulk standards,” which are defined in state statute.

Dave Hediger, director of planning and code enforcement, said Tuesday staff members need more time to review the legal concerns to determine whether substantive changes to the language will be required. If so, another public hearing and potential Planning Board review would need to happen.

“It’s important to make sure we’re consistent,” Hediger told the City Council. ‘We just want to make sure we’re on solid footing.”

A memorandum to the City Council said the land use code amendments, part of the larger implementation of design standards, were drafted to create “incentives and flexibility that supports infill development as well as clarifying unclear portions of the zoning ordinance.”

It states either outcome from the staff review “delays the adoption process. However, the city is in a better position to have the ordinance reviewed now than having to defend or be challenged later on language deemed questionable.”

Hediger and Doug Greene, deputy director of planning and code enforcement, have said the main goals of the initiative are to simplify the development process while encouraging higher-quality development.

All new projects in the downtown district will be subject to building standards for considerations, such as entrances and windows, parking access and design, landscaping and an overall design that shows “compatibility and harmony with surrounding buildings.”

The City Council unanimously approved continuing the public hearing until its next scheduled meeting, scheduled for Oct. 6.

The memorandum said staff considered whether to request that the council move forward with adopting other sections of the proposed amendments not impacted by the legal review. However, it states, “given how intertwined the language of the zoning ordinance is, staff’s recommendation is to delay any action at this time and have the council adopt all the changes as a single request.”

Also as part of the approval, the City Council accepted text amendments to several sections of zoning ordinances and rezoning several properties along Pine and Leeds streets.

The properties will be rezoned into the downtown residential district, which Greene has said will create a more “unified” downtown residential zone in the Tree Streets area, intended to encourage development of vacant or underutilized spaces and redevelopment of downtown.

The standards were developed during a yearlong committee process, and received a favorable recommendation from the Planning Board.

Greene told the City Council earlier this month the new standards “will be helpful to developers, while at the same time not putting a burden on development costs.”

Earlier in the process, Greene told officials Lewiston fell short in requiring much of anything in terms of building design. He said the new standards are meant to guide developers, but are not requirements.


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