A presentation by Lewiston consultant Stantec shows an alternative building design for a gas station, left, that turns it into a multiuse development. The image on the right was used as an example of in-fill development that can promote pedestrian traffic.

LEWISTON — Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the city is looking for at least some consensus on what makes an attractive building.

Residents participate Wednesday in the first Design Lewiston meeting.

Lewiston has hired a consultant to work with staff to update architectural design standards for key areas in the city, as officials look to encourage projects that will promote beautification and walkability.

A public meeting Wednesday with consultant Stantec sought feedback from residents about what they would like to see, with participants faced with “visual preference tests” and asked to give feedback based on the sample architecture. Is it the color, height, windows or perhaps something else that is important to people?

According to Doug Greene, deputy director of planning and code enforcement, the initiative is rooted in the city’s newest comprehensive plan, which was implemented in 2017. The document urges updating design standards for new construction and development of vacant or underused parcels, and officials are using money set aside for implementation to pay the consultant.

Greene said there will be at least two more public meetings in the coming months before the city nails down the final language at the end of the year.

An invitation to Wednesday’s meeting described the project as a way “to address architectural and site design in a manner that respects Lewiston’s heritage and creates great places for the community and visitors. The updated design regulations will also be more easily understood and ensure cost-effectiveness.”

Greene said the process will somewhat mirror what took place in Auburn when he was on staff there. In 2014, the city conducted a similar process toward form-based code in specific areas, which was ultimately implemented in 2016. Form-based code has been implemented in cities across the country as a way to encourage developers to make their buildings and sidewalks more inviting to foot traffic.

He said when the Lewiston Planning Board has to review a development proposal, they have “virtually nothing” that dictates design features or how a building should look.

“There’s not a lot of actual requirements in terms of design for Lewiston,” Greene said this week.

He said “good, urban design” promotes walkability and development that leads to increased property values.

As an example, Greene said, standards could require buildings have a door on the front of the building, or certain window sizes on a building’s first floor compared to its second or third floors. Officials are first trying to identify “character districts,” such as downtown Lisbon Street, which could hold certain design standards to “help promote that character.”

“We’re not seeing this as being citywide,” he said. “We’d like this to be where it’s going to get the most impact.”

The process will include reviews of the city’s Historic Preservation Design Manual. An advisory committee has already been formed to help guide the process over the next seven months.

Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development, said Thursday design standards have been considered in Lewiston for more than a decade.

He said a set of standards was drafted but not acted upon by the City Council.

“A big part of the discussions was whether they should be requirements or recommendations,” he said. “There was concern that too heavy a hand might discourage new investment.”

Jeffers said at the same time, city staff was aware that the existing code left holes. He said, for example, if someone wanted to build a corrugated, metal-sided building in the heart of the downtown, the code would allow that.

“Fortunately, we have not had to grapple with a totally inappropriate design proposal in the downtown,” he said. “We have been fortunate to work with developers who are interested in bettering the community and willing to work with staff and the Planning Board to improve design of their project. However, without standards, the door for an incompatible downtown project remains open.”

He said the city has a “smart growth-oriented” Code of Ordinances for the downtown zoning districts, and the “Design Lewiston” initiative is building upon that.

Greene said ultimately the city is shooting for balance.

“We want to require more from development,” he said, “but we don’t want those requirements to push people away or add a lot of cost, so we want to strike a balance.”


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