An undeveloped 11-acre parcel in Lewiston is seen Tuesday, bordered by Farwell Street at bottom, Charles Street at left, Meadowview Park housing development on Spofford Street at right and East Avenue at top. Developer Dave Gendron of Lewiston is seeking a contract zone to build 321 housing units, likely in three or four buildings of between four and six stories. At far left is Farwell Elementary School at 84 Farwell St. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The City Council will take up a proposed contract zone in the Farwell Street neighborhood next week for developer David Gendron, after the Planning Board sent a favorable recommendation Tuesday.

If ultimately approved, Gendron’s development team said it would pursue a multifamily housing development of up to 321 units, possibly limited to people 55 and older. While developers said they would not finalize plans until if and when a contract zone is approved, Mike Gotto from GRE, a limited liability company in Lewiston, said the units would likely be in three or four buildings of between four and six stories.

Several neighboring residents spoke against the contract zone during Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting, including concerns for the building height, traffic and other impacts. Gotto said higher buildings would allow the development to be more condensed, maintain more green space, and be closer to Sabattus Street, farther away from the single-family neighborhood along Charles Street.

The land, 11 acres between 128 Farwell St. and 255 East Ave., has previously been the subject of development talks several times due to its location, but according to city staff, its zoning in the neighborhood conservation district has limited what can be placed there.

During a city effort to rezone the larger surrounding area in 2022 — in part to alleviate the housing crunch by allowing more multifamily housing — the parcel was left out due to concerns from neighbors. While the City Council initially supported rezoning the parcel with some conditions, Lewiston’s legal counsel said a contract zone would be required, and the council agreed that a contract zone could alleviate some neighborhood concerns.

The contract zone would shift the parcel to allow uses similar to the community business district, which includes multifamily housing and some nonresidential uses.

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Asked Tuesday, Gotto said Gendron “has no interest in doing anything other than multifamily” housing.

He also said the developers would be designing multifamily buildings that could be built there or at a different parcel owned by Gendron if the contract zone isn’t approved.

“It’s going to get built, whether it gets built on this site or somewhere else will depend,” he said.

According to a city memo, based on the acreage, the difference between the current zoning and the contract zone is 95 single-family dwelling units versus 317 multifamily units. Gotto said the correct number allowed under the contract zone, based on the acreage, is 321 units, and Gendron would only be able to develop 37 single-family homes under the current zoning due to minimum lot size standards there.

Despite concerns for more traffic in an area that city staff said already has traffic issues, city officials are largely in favor of the change, and said intersection upgrades could be made.

“There is a need for housing of all types in Lewiston,” a staff memo said. “Over the last 15 months, both the Planning Board and City Council have worked on amendments to provide more opportunities for housing and economic development. The proposed contract zone for this property provides yet another opportunity for this to occur.”

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The memo also said the lot is in an ideal location for residential infill development, because it’s “on roads that already experience higher volumes of traffic,” is “adjacent to existing utility infrastructure,” and “is within walking distance of schools, retail, medical, a college, bus routes and personal services.”

It also states that while the lot abuts a single-family district, it also abuts a developed commercial district and an existing multifamily development.

Staff and some Planning Board members did admit to traffic issues, which were recently backed up by a traffic study.

The memo said there are intersections in the study area with “existing capacity deficiencies,” but that “overall, the findings indicate that the assumed development would not significantly impact operations in the surrounding area.”

Referring to discussions in 2022, Gotto said “the neighborhood was very correct” that there are traffic issues there, but that the recent study outlined potential changes. He said the entrance to the site would likely be off Farwell Street, with Charles Street possibly featuring an emergency access.

One Farwell Street resident, Chris Lachapelle, said he frequently sees cars backed up along Farwell Street all the way to Sabattus Street.

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Donna Harvey, who also lives on Farwell Street, said she’s concerned about getting out of the street in potential emergencies.

“What you’re doing to our neighborhood, would you like it in yours?” she asked.

Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development, also spoke during public comment. He said the property has been recognized as a developable site for many years, and that GRE has “listened carefully to concerns from the neighbors.”

Prior to the vote, Planning Board member Josh Nagine said Lewiston is “net negative” for housing units over the past two decades, and that while he understands the neighborhood concerns, the development could provide similar needed housing that “unfortunately didn’t occur in my neighborhood.”

Nagine was referring to the Residence at Great Falls, an approved 244-unit housing complex at the former Pineland Lumber Co. property on Avon Street that has so far sat idle.

“Gendron didn’t create the traffic problem, neither did the residents,” he said, adding that there are intersections that need to be fixed. But, he said, with the need for housing so great, saying no to housing that could be 55-plus “feels like a bad idea.”

The board was unanimous in its favorable recommendation for the contract zone, and it is scheduled to go to the City Council on Tuesday. A final reading would take place Oct. 17.

If the contract zone is approved, any development would still need to go through a separate development review process with the city and Planning Board.

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