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Updated: June 8, 2023

Lewiston overhauls zoning ordinances to spur development, ramp up housing

buildings lining street and snowy sidewalk PHOTO / TIM GREENWAY Updated zoning ordinances are designed to remove obstacles to economic development and to create more housing attainability.

An extensive update of Lewiston’s zoning ordinances is expected to pave the way for more commercial and residential development.

“By updating our current zoning ordinances, we are working to remove obstacles to economic development and create more housing attainability,” said City Councilor Rick LaChapelle, Ward 4. “Before adopting these zoning improvements, many requirements not only hindered development but also, some may argue, actively worked against it.”

The update came after several months of public dialogue. The ordinances have largely gone untouched for decades, according to a news release.

The amended ordinances are designed to be more efficient, user-friendly and clear, with every ward expected to benefit.

“Updating the city’s zoning has been a top priority of this City Council,” said City Administrator Heather Hunter. 

The changes allow for a greater mix of commercial use, encourage more housing and gear up for upcoming changes to state housing laws. Topics addressed included parking requirements, redefining accessory dwelling units, housing density, rezoning the three main commercial arterials — Sabattus Street, Lisbon Street and Main Street — and increasing business and housing opportunities.

More multi-families

Among the specifics, modified zoning of nearly 375 properties within the Sabattus, Lisbon and Main Street corridors included increased depth of commercial zoning districts, reduced setbacks to provide more space for development and more opportunities for multi-family development.

In the three corridors, the highway business zone now permits multi-family development to increase the housing supply, make more efficient use of the land, enhance the neighborhood and urban vitality and improve access to amenities.

Within the greater downtown area, where properties are closer to public transportation, sidewalks and municipal parking facilities, parking standards were reduced to provide more opportunity for lots to be developed and redeveloped. For example, new commercial businesses will likely not have to provide parking on-site in much of the downtown.

In some neighborhoods, the city now permits small retail stores and food establishments in order to increase neighborhood vibrancy and quality of life.

Previously the city required open space and passive recreational areas in downtown. However, given the downtown development pattern, this is difficult and cost prohibitive. Additionally, how and where people recreate has changed over the years. Zoning updates provide creative recreation solutions more likely to use in the downtown, such as indoor recreation spaces, balconies and rooftop decks. 

Backlot development

Private right-of-way provisions were developed, where backlot development for up to six residential lots or two non-residential lots can now occur.  

Previous regulations dictated permits for storage and tool sheds. Now, the city no longer requires building permits for residential, one-story detached accessory structures under 200 square feet and commercial one-story detached accessory structures under 120 square feet. 

 In many older, developed neighborhoods, the established building setbacks did not conform to current zoning setback requirements, which restricted the ability of property owners to expand or add structures such as decks. Instead of requiring new or redeveloped structures in these neighborhoods to comply with the standard setbacks, structures that do not meet the setbacks are permitted to be expanded, provided that the existing conditions are not worsened.

Backyard chickens

Updates will allow more Lewiston homeowners to have the opportunity to keep bees and chickens, with reductions in setbacks for bees and lot sizes for chickens, while maintaining some restrictions to help address neighbors' concerns.

Lewiston expanded its home occupation rules in recognition that the work environment has changed. More types of businesses may be started in the home, although permits and rules may still apply to preserve residential neighborhoods.

Part of the expansions now allow one employee to work at a home business. The city altered zoning rules related to home occupations to provide more opportunities for home businesses and entrepreneurs to operate in residential areas. 

New accessory dwelling units language aims to ease the housing crunch, provide opportunities for additional income and expand flexibility to homeowners. Previously, ADUs had to be attached to the home and occupied by a family member. With the updates, ADUs can also be detached from the primary structure and may be rented, offering an option for the homeowner to gain rental income.

Scouring through changes 

The updates had the city’s planning staff scouring through thousands of detailed changes and dozens of substantive changes. 

“Our objective is to foster and support reform of inefficient and outdated ordinance language,” said City Planner Shelley Norton. 

A goal of the updates is to be more reflective of today’s environment. Many of the zoning provisions to date were adopted in the late 1980s. 

“Zoning and land-use practices have since evolved and so should the ordinances to help the city continue moving forward,” said Norton.

Planning and code enforcement staff worked on the updates for a year. The city council approved the changes over a period of months. The most recent changes will take effect June 16.

“The amendments were needed as zoning and land-use practices have evolved, as well as changing economic and development approaches,” said Director of Planning and Code Enforcement David Hediger. “With more changes to come, these initiatives will help Lewiston progress and grow in a sustainable and meaningful direction.”

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