LEWISTON — A joint workshop between the City Council and Planning Board yielded no clear consensus Tuesday about how to regulate transitional housing and whether to revisit where new shelters can be located in the city.

The workshop between the two bodies was called after several weeks of a back and forth over a proposed transitional housing project at the Ramada Hotel. The City Council had originally proposed regulating transitional housing in the same manner as homeless shelters, but following concerns from the Planning Board and Housing Committee over unintended consequences to existing housing and programs, the issue was tabled until after Tuesday’s joint workshop.

With limited progress made Tuesday, the two bodies are scheduled to meet again Sept. 26.

City planning staff said it was looking for guidance from officials in order to present more detailed options for defining transitional housing, but received little clarity other than most agreed it should be regulated separately from the city’s existing shelter ordinance.

Dave Hediger, director of Planning and Code Enforcement, said he would draft potential language to share at the next workshop.

A similar debate took place among councilors over whether regulations on transitional housing are needed, especially after Lewiston Housing’s proposed Ramada project is likely dead. Councilor Lee Clement said councilors wanted to get an ordinance on the books in response to “word games” from Lewiston Housing regarding its proposal to turn the Ramada into 117 units of affordable housing with supportive services.


“We don’t want to become like other places in Maine,” he said, referring to the homelessness issue in other cities.

In late August, the Board of Appeals denied a variance request from Lewiston Housing, partly because it argued the housing would alter the character of the surrounding neighborhood.

A few Planning Board members said Tuesday that regulations should be built around the size and scale of projects in order to address neighborhood concerns while not impacting smaller-scale transitional housing units that are spread throughout the city.

Councilor Bob McCarthy, Ward 1, called transitional housing “a step up” and “a more firm footing,” but said his original support for adding language was “because you’re dealing with similar clientele.” He said the city should create a new ordinance regulating it.

Others argued that transitional housing, like units for homeless youth, veterans or refugees, should not be hindered by additional regulations.

Ward 3 Councilor Scott Harriman said the city should first find out what exists for transitional housing before it starts to regulate. A staff memo said the city is uncertain about the number of residences being used.


“If we don’t know what we have it’s hard to know what sorts of issues will come up,” he said.


It also seems unlikely that the City Council will revisit where homeless shelters are allowed, at least this year.

During the discussion on the city’s shelter overlay zone, several councilors questioned why it even appeared on the agenda.

Ward 4 Councilor Rick LaChapelle said a majority of the council does not want to expand where shelters are allowed.

During previous talks by the Planning Board and City Council, revisiting the shelter overlay zone has been brought up several times.

Planning Board member Shanna Cox said the board would like to explore the addition of areas of the city that are not downtown or in residential neighborhoods but that could still support access to services and proximity to bus routes.


She said the city has a homeless population that doesn’t utilize the current shelter structure, and that the overlay zone “really limits opportunity.”

“By not providing more opportunity, we’re likely to see contract rezones in places that might not have our guidance,” she said.

Mayor Carl Sheline said that since any new shelter needs to be approved by the council, he believes the overlay zone is “redundant.”

LaChapelle said he was “disappointed” officials were not going to get a consensus Tuesday.

“We’re getting stuck in the mud,” he said. “We’re not going to get through this tonight, we’re not going to get through this on the 26th.”

He said the bodies “have some philosophical differences right now” and should “start focusing on things we do agree on,” especially with an election coming up.

“We have four councilors right now who do not want to change that zoning map. We have a majority on it,” he said. “We should be focusing on different issues.”

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