LEWISTON – Planning Board members say the City Council often leaves them in the dark when it comes to pertinent information on major planning and land-use decisions.

“We acknowledge tension around emergent development proposals, most recently the former Martel School at 860 Lisbon St.,” members said in a letter to the council, which they drafted and finalized at a meeting Monday.

“This tension often stems from the process not being transparent enough in including the Planning Board as a collaborative partner. We have seen tension boil over from every party – citizens, board members, developers and councilors – to nobody’s benefit and to the detriment of the city as a whole,” the letter read.

The Planning Board and council have clashed several times over the past several months, especially over discussions on the disposition and potential development of the former Martel School property. In January, the council decided not to renew a two-year option agreement with Lewiston Housing Authority and Avesta Housing, which had planned to redevelop the property into affordable senior housing.

Although Planning Board members said they did not want their letter to get caught up in the discussions regarding Martel, it did serve as a recent flashpoint that highlighted tensions.

“It feels like this body has expressed frustration and displeasure with the way in which members of our City Council as a whole have categorized our work (and) our stance for or against development,” board member Shanna Cox said at a March 13 meeting when the letter was initially drafted.


Board member Lucy Bisson expressed frustration with how the council treats the board, particularly during recent discussions on rezoning the area around the Martel school to allow for certain types of developments.

“It was said that we were amateurs and (we) had no business changing what staff’s recommendation was,” Bisson said, apparently referring to comments that Councilor Lee Clement made during a March 7 council meeting. During that meeting, the council discussed the differing recommendations from city staff and the Planning Board on zoning.

“Staff is the professional in the room, as far as I’m concerned,” Clement said. “We have a Planning Board, yes. I’m not sure of the makeup, what their curriculum vitae is,” and he called the members a “bunch of part-time people from the Planning Board.”

“We’re disrespected and we’re treated as idiots,” Bisson said.

Cox said from her perspective she believes the board has a “desire” to go on record as a “shared voice from this Planning Board that counters the anti-development narrative that has escaped.”

By Monday’s meeting, the Planning Board was less focused on airing their frustrations and more on recommendations for how to move forward with the council.


“We want to identify the mechanisms that led to the current situation and identify areas that could benefit from an improved process,” members said in the letter.

“As the City Council and Planning Board reach different recommendations regarding acquisition, disposition and rezoning of properties, we think it shows the impact of having incomplete information. Having a shared understanding of relevant data supports good decision making.”

The board also proposed “high-level guiding principles” for both groups to follow, including that “all parties commit to professionalism and respect” in communications and that “all parties prioritize the free and open sharing of information.”

“When a party has to request additional information it delays the process. When a party makes a decision based on incomplete information, it might result in poor or incongruous outcomes,” they said.

The board has expressed frustration that the council had discussed pertinent information on the Martel school property during executive sessions, meaning that the Planning Board did not have the full picture when making recommendations or decisions.

The board ended the letter with “tangible next steps,” moving forward. These included sharing information on “future impactful development opportunities” via joint workshops and/or invitations to executive sessions.

The board also suggested writing a joint statement with the council “regarding our shared vision for the development in the city.”

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