Lewiston City Councilor Rick LaChapelle outlines issues Tuesday that the council has addressed regarding the future of the former Martel Elementary School, as Mayor Carl Sheline, left, listens. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The City Council voted Tuesday night to give the Lewiston Housing Authority one more shot at proposing a redevelopment plan for the former Martel Elementary School property.

The council voted unanimously to postpone discussion on the disposition of the property to no later than April 18 to allow the housing authority to come up with a prospective timeline and feasibility to redevelop it into affordable housing for seniors.

The motion came after more than an hour of discussion and debate in which councilors, the mayor, city staff members and officials from the housing authority had differing recollections of the conversations and decisions that led to this point.

Mayor Carl Sheline opened the discussion by reiterating previous statements that the decision not to renew the option agreement with the Lewiston Housing Authority and Avesta Housing and, instead, go with a bid from developer Dave Gendron of Gendron Realty was made “behind closed doors.”

“Without any public reason why or accountability, the council left it to staff to explain to the Planning Board why we should change course,” Sheline said. “The whole situation and the way in which it was conducted was not transparent.”

In response, Councilor Rick LaChapelle made a motion to publicly disclose conversations about Martel that were held in executive session.


“At this time, I am extremely concerned with the — as evidenced by (Sheline’s) statement — mistruths and misnomers that are going around in regards to this project,” LaChapelle said.

Executive sessions are not open to the public and municipal staff members and elected officials are bound under Maine law to not disclose anything discussed during an executive session. Discussions about Martel concerned the sale or purchase of property and can be held during an executive session.

“I guess I am super pleased that the public finally gets to hear what some of the stuff went on behind closed doors,” LaChapelle said in an interview Wednesday. “We were making decisions on the information that we’re given in executive session that we can’t share with the public.”

Under state law, there can be no records or notes made during an executive session. If there are, they could be subject to Freedom of Access Act requests.

That meant that when it came time for city councilors to give their version of the events that led up to Tuesday night’s meeting, many had differing recollections of what has happened since 2019, particularly involving the City Council, Lewiston Housing Authority and Gendron.

The sticking point for several councilors was that the housing authority “kept kicking the can down the road” on moving the housing project forward, in Councilor Bob McCarthy’s words.


The City Council “bent over backwards trying to make this happen,” and, in the end, “demolition was key to our decision,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy and others have said the city’s insurance provider wants the building to be demolished if the insurer is to continue providing coverage.

“They’re threatening to drop coverage on it, and, if they drop coverage, then that opens the city up to a lot of liabilities,” McCarthy said in an interview Wednesday.

“And what made us go from, you know, we gave Lewiston Housing Authority three years — almost three years — and they hadn’t done anything and they were not committing to anything in the near future,” he said, whereas Gendron’s bid was more than $200,000 more than the housing authority’s offer, and he would commit to razing the building immediately.

LaChapelle said Wednesday that when it became clear to the City Council that the housing authority could not demolish or significantly renovate the building “in a timely fashion” the council or city staff made the suggestion to go back to Gendron to see if he was still interested.

At that point, which was in November or December, according to LaChapelle, and in January, according to McCarthy, the City Council asked Gendron if he could accommodate at least 44 units for senior housing.


“Every single person on this council is interested in making it senior housing,” LaChapelle said. “There’s no question about it. It’s just how quickly we can do it.”

According to a memorandum on the timeline of events since 2019, requested by Councilor Stephanie Gelinas and prepared last month by City Administrator Heather Hunter, Lewiston’s director of economic and community development wrote in a memo to the City Council before a Sept. 6, 2022, executive session that Gendron “continues to express interest in the property.”

Gelinas said she requested the memorandum because everything “became so convoluted,” and wanted to take a step back and “try to get rid of all that excess” that could potentially cloud a decision.

“The prospect he was working with in 2020 is no longer in the market and he may need to revisit his bid price, but he is prepared to move forward with acquisition, demolition and ready the site for development. Without site control he will not market the property,” Lincoln Jeffers, the city’s director of economic and community development, wrote.

The City Council was then asked how to proceed: To enter a new agreement with Lewiston Housing Authority, negotiate an agreement with Gendron or put out a new request for proposals.

Hunter’s memorandum does not include information past that point last fall.


Jeffers reiterated this at Tuesday night’s meeting. Hunter said at the meeting that this discussion in executive session had to have been later, after the SHARECenter was out of space.

The SHARECener leased the building for three years and had to vacate the space by Dec. 1, 2022.

Councilor Lee Clement said Tuesday he agreed with the timeline LaChapelle gave.

“Things just did not happen,” Clement said. “And after almost four years, the building is still sitting there.”

Council President Linda Scott also said the City Council directed city staff members to reach out to Gendron, but Scott was “concerned about that because we had not seen a plan” yet from Gendron for the senior housing.

Councilor Scott Harriman disputed that Gendron ever came to the City Council with a promise to put in senior housing.


“The first I heard of that was at our, I believe, it was our last meeting,” Harriman said Tuesday. “So I don’t’ know if that was talked about with some of the councilors, but it was never presented to all of us because I was not aware of that plan before.”

In an email Wednesday to the Sun Journal, Harriman said he was glad the City Council is working again with the Lewiston Housing Authority.

“Housing is one of the biggest needs in our community,” he said, “and so far, they have been the only developer to present the City Council with a plan more detailed than just demolishing the building.”

Chris Kilmurry, executive director of the Lewiston Housing Authority, told councilors Tuesday he is “highly disappointed in the insinuation that we in any way, shape or form dragged our feet on this process. We didn’t.”

Kilmurry said the SHARECenter’s moving out of the space and city staff members informing the housing authority that the City Council chose not to renew the option and that they would go forward with Gendron all happened about the same time.

“I came to you guys as a partner,” Kilmurry said, “because I want to see good things happen for the city.”

When Clement asked if he could put together a new timeline for the City Council to review, Kilmurry said the housing authority is “very excited to move forward.”

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