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

LEWISTON — The Planning Board sent a unanimous recommendation Monday to the City Council in favor of again pursuing senior housing at the former Martel School on Lisbon Street after the city had initially pivoted away from the project.

However, when the City Council next takes up the issue, it will not be bound by the recommendation.

The board was asked to weigh in on redevelopment options at the site after city staff said the City Council had recently chosen not to renew an option agreement with Lewiston Housing and Avesta Housing, which had previously planned to redevelop the former school into 44 units of senior housing.

Since then, officials from Lewiston Housing have said the organization never retreated from its proposal despite delays, and that senior housing is still a viable — and needed — option for redevelopment there.

Staff had indicated the city was instead leaning toward a sale to developer David Gendron of Gendron Realty, who planned a mixed-use redevelopment.

During an initial discussion two weeks ago, and again Monday, board members and members of the public said they were disappointed that the city had moved away from the senior housing project. Many said affordable senior housing has been long overlooked, and that the area surrounding 860 Lisbon St. is full of retail and commercial properties that are vacant or underutilized.


Chris Kilmurry, executive director of Lewiston Housing, said there are more than 1,600 people over 62 on the organization’s current waiting list.

Board member and former City Councilor Michael Marcotte made the motion to recommend that the city renew its purchase option with Lewiston Housing “to allow the development of affordable senior housing.”

“I think it would be shameful for the council to do anything else but support our (Comprehensive Plan), which addresses the serious need for senior housing,” he said. “Not to extend them the option would be unconscionable.”

Two weeks ago, staff 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. The city then pivoted to consider a $400,000 offer from Gendron, which would raze the school, but the agreement stipulated Lewiston would pay for the cost of asbestos remediation and disposing of building debris.

According to a memo to the board from Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development, the majority of asbestos was removed previously, but that an estimate of final abatement costs was between $50,000 and $100,000. Staff also estimated the cost to dispose of demolition material at $60,000.

In response to questions from the board, assessing staff estimated the vacant property would likely have a fair market value of between $700,000 and $900,000.


In a letter to the board, Mayor Carl Sheline said “there has been no valid reason provided, either stated publicly or in executive session, that would warrant the drastic action of selling the property to a different buyer.”

“On the contrary, (Lewiston Housing) has spent considerable resources and time thus far and stands ready to develop the property,” he said.

Sheline went on to say that the decision would hurt the city’s credibility.

“Developers value consistency and predictability,” he said. “The city of Lewiston is not served by the current council changing direction in this manner. This will create doubt for developers and weakens the city’s bargaining position in the future.”

During the meeting, Kilmurry argued that the city should “stick with” the option that was originally on the table. He said while Lewiston may decide to sell the property for its full value, it would likely not become housing due to current market forces.

He also added that had there been a different lease structure in place with the SHARECenter, which previously occupied some of the building, Lewiston Housing would have purchased the property earlier.


Several seniors, including Skip Estes, spoke of the need for more senior housing.

“I lost my home because I couldn’t afford the taxes,” he told the board. “I need to turn to senior housing, and there’s nothing I can afford.”

Board member Shanna Cox argued that affordable housing on the property could spur additional investment in the area, including pedestrian improvements and smaller-scale retail.

“If we anchored that corner with housing, it could create more,” she said.

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