LEWISTON — After some testy exchanges, the City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday evening to approve a two-year option agreement with Lewiston Housing for the redevelopment of the former Martel School into senior housing.

The agreement marks a major milestone in a monthslong debate over how the city property should be redeveloped. Lewiston Housing has a two-year option to purchase the property at 880 Lisbon St., demolish the former school and secure financing to develop senior housing.

Leading up to the 6-1 vote to approve, several councilors attempted to amend the details of the option agreement to add penalties if the project doesn’t move forward in the next two years. However, Chris Kilmurry, executive director of Lewiston Housing, said the amendments would be a deal-breaker, and would add delays to an application for financing that is already reaching “the 11th hour.”

At one point in the meeting, Kilmurry and Councilor Rick LaChapelle entered into a heated back-and-forth over previous negotiations on the property, with LaChapelle calling Kilmurry “arrogant” and a liar.

Proponents hope that the former Martel Elementary School will be turned into senior housing. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The agreement approved Tuesday has been a long time coming. Last month, the council directed city staff to work with Kilmurry on a new agreement after Lewiston Housing shifted its redevelopment proposal for the site after failing to move forward on a first attempt in 2020.

The timeline for development had previously been a sticking point among councilors, who had initially opted to pursue a development by Dave Gendron. That decision led to weeks of debate over what conversations took place out of the public view, and how best to address the pressing need for senior housing in Lewiston.


The current proposal by Lewiston Housing looks to build a first phase of 36 units by 2025, but the timeline — and the scope of the project over the next several years — would depend on the amount of funding secured through state low-income housing tax credits, which are awarded to a select number of projects annually.

That uncertainty led councilors to express reservations with the agreement Tuesday. The agreement will sell the former school to Lewiston Housing for $1, but says Lewiston Housing will use its funds toward demolition, which is estimated to cost between $300,000 and $400,000. Some councilors disagreed, however, with language that would reimburse Lewiston Housing the cost of demolition if the project fails to move forward.

“We’ve gone round and round, and we’re into year four on this. We can’t operate in a no-risk environment,” Clement said. “If they fail, it’s all on us.”

Kilmurry said the project is “not a slam-dunk,” and that there is risk for Lewiston Housing due to the high costs to simply put applications for financing together. He also said their “backs are against the wall with time” and that adding potential penalties to Lewiston Housing is “inappropriate given they cannot control the selection process for financing.

LaChapelle agreed with Clement’s proposed amendments.

“I want to know, if you can’t hold up your end of the bargain for another two years, is it fair to the citizens of Lewiston and the senior citizens waiting, if we have to take the hit again?” he said.

Kilmurry responded that the council has come at him “over and over” regarding the project, and that the city offered the exact same deal to another party.

“I don’t have time to go through this again,” he said.

Councilor Bob McCarthy said he felt like he had “a gun to my head” regarding a decision on the agreement. Despite advocating for Clement’s amendments, he voted in favor of the agreement. Clement eventually withdrew his proposed amendments, but voted against the agreement.

Councilor Scott Harriman said amending the agreement prior to voting would be “sending a message that it’s hard to do business here.”

Mayor Carl Sheline said city staff was OK with the details of the agreement but that the council was “second-guessing” the work.

Lewiston Housing will be going forward with the redevelopment with its subsidiary the Lewiston Auburn Area Housing Development Corp. Demolition of the former school is slated to occur by fall.

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