The Lewiston Housing Authority’s plan to purchase and convert the Ramada Inn into transitional housing appears to have been halted following the Board of Appeals decision to deny their request for a zoning variance earlier this week.
According to the Lewiston Sun Journal, the Lewiston Housing Authority was seeking a zoning variance that would lower the minimum dwelling unit size from 300 square feet to 282 square feet — the size of 80 percent of existing rooms in the former Ramada Inn.
The Housing Authority intended turn the former hotel into 117 affordable housing units with “selective services” for those who are on “the fringes of homelessness” — “people facing evictions or rent increases, homeless youth, people fleeing domestic violence, disabled veterans and others.”
Chris Kilmurry, the executive director of the Housing Authority, has said publicly that they hoped the former Ramada Inn would help fill the current gap in housing for single parents with children. Such a shortage exists due to the fact that local shelters in the area do not allow for children.
Kilmurry has also described the size difference between the request 282 square feet as being “the size of a large table away” from the required 300 square feet minimum.
Despite this, the Housing Authority’s transitional housing proposal has been controversial from the beginning.
Critics of the plan argued that the development would have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood and that the loss of a major hotel would be harmful to the town’s economy, according to the Lewiston newspaper’s reporting.
Many members of the Board of Appeals believe that issuing the variance would “alter the central character of the property,” meaning that the request would fail to meet one of the four criteria that would need to be met in order for the variance to be approved.
In response to these concerns, Development Project Director for Lewiston Housing Silas Leavitt has publicly stated that the Ramada Inn has received no offers for the property outside of the Housing Authority’s.
Leavitt further explained that the existing structure would require “significant investment,” including a $1.5 million roof.
“Based on the cost of purchasing the building and tearing it down, any developer would be looking at $10 million hole from the start,” he told the Board.
The Lewiston Housing Authority opted to pursue a zoning variance instead of a contract zone on account of time constraints associated with their ability to receive a $3.7 million grant from MaineHousing.
This grant would cover roughly half of the $7.5 million purchase price of the property.
During the Board of Appeals public comment period, nobody offered remarks in favor of the variance request, and several residents spoke out against it.
Some mentioned that people are already moving out of the area, while other raised concerns about the merits of the variance request itself.
It is unclear at this time what will become of the former Ramada Inn, although in light of the zoning variance denial, it is highly unlikely that it will ultimately be used in the manner originally intended by the Lewiston Housing Authority.