The former Martel Elementary School at 860 Lisbon St. in Lewiston. Sun Journal file photo

LEWISTON — The Planning Board will wait to make its recommendation on redevelopment options at the former Martel school after the city said it had moved on from a senior housing proposal.

The consensus from the board Monday was that the city should consider all options for redeveloping the site at 860 Lisbon St. and that it had pivoted too quickly from the planned senior housing project to a potential sale to developer David Gendron of Gendron Realty.

During the meeting, several members of the public spoke in favor of continuing to pursue senior housing at the site, while city staff said Gendron has continued to express interest in the property for some kind of mixed-use development.

However, the board, which was expected to send a recommendation to the council regarding the property, tabled the decision to Feb. 13, requesting more information.

Chris Kilmurry, executive director of Lewiston Housing, told the board Monday that the organization was surprised when informed the city would not be extending its option agreement to purchase the former school, and believes a senior housing project there is still feasible. The city entered into a two-year option agreement with Lewiston Housing in 2020, but city staff has said the council decided to “explore other options” due to uncertainty around new affordable housing development.

Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development, said Lewiston Housing had received state low-income housing tax credits toward the project but had to return them after it was clear the development wouldn’t get off the ground within a required two-year window.


However, Kilmurry said Lewiston Housing had not “retreated” from its initial proposal, and requested Monday that the city reconsider extending the agreement.

Referring to the board’s discussion on choosing the “highest and best use” for the property, Kilmurry said it “is clearly housing.” He said the last two and half years were challenging for development, but were abnormal.

“Timelines look a lot more positive these days,” he said, adding that he’s “confident it could get off the ground in the next couple years.”

Asked about the decision not to renew the option agreement with Lewiston Housing, Jeffers said the council made the decision in executive session, but that he could not expand further.

According to Lewiston Housing, it would have provided 44 homes to seniors earning less than 50% or 60% of the area median income, with 23 units using “project-based vouchers” allowing seniors to pay 30% of their adjusted monthly gross income toward rent.

Members of the board said they were also concerned for Gendron’s proposed purchase price of $400,000, an agreement that would require the city to pay for asbestos abatement and disposal of the demolished school.


“I don’t think that’s a good deal,” board Chairperson Lucy Bisson said. “If he really wants this property, we shouldn’t be paying for that.”

Board member Joshua Nagine questioned why the city was moving so quickly to sell the property to Gendron. He and member Michael Marcotte said the property is a “prime” piece of land that could be sold for much more on the open market.

Marcotte said he was on the council when it supported the Lewiston Housing proposal, which he supported due to plans to keep the building facade and public recreational space.

“Elderly housing is something we need to address,” he said.

Ultimately, the board voted 4-3 to table, with board member Shanna Cox asking staff for a more detailed estimate of asbestos removal costs, along with a real estate market analysis to better estimate what the property could be sold for in 2023.

Cox pointed to the Maine Real Estate and Development Association’s annual forecast conference last week, during which Lewiston-Auburn was cited as a “booming” market. She said it would be “shortsighted” for the city to move forward without exploring more options.


Gendron has developed a number of industrial and commercial buildings throughout Lewiston, including the redevelopment of the former Promenade Mall at 855 Lisbon St., across from the Martel property.

Others on the board said the city should at least create a new request-for-proposals for the site, and consider Gendron’s offer along with any others that might come in.

Jeffers defended city staff’s proposal to sell the property to Gendron, stating that it’s unlikely a developer, including Gendron, will have a detailed proposal ready. He said developers can’t sell an idea to potential investors or tenants without site control. He also said City Hall is “often accused of not moving ahead with development,” and that Gendron has been inquiring about Martel since 2019.

Several seniors, including Diane Grandmaison, said Lewiston desperately needs more senior housing.

“Seniors have been paying property taxes for years, but when it comes to senior housing, where are you?” she said.

Mayor Carl Sheline, who attended the meeting, said he agrees with several members of the board and residents who are in support of the school becoming affordable housing for seniors, but also said a mixed-use project that includes a commercial use could be considered.

“In the middle of a statewide affordable housing shortage, the second largest city in Maine can’t be taking housing off the table,” he said. “If there is commercial interest in the property, then we should have a discussion about what a mixed-use development looks like for that site.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: