Volunteers of America seeks to reclaim units lost in Lewiston fire with new housing development

Posted Sept. 07, 2013, at 6:16 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 07, 2013, at 10:56 a.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — A proposed downtown project would resurrect 30 housing units lost in a May 3 fire that burned four apartment buildings and left dozens homeless.

Volunteers of America hopes to build a housing development on lots at 110 and 114 Pierce St. and 145 and 149 Bartlett St. The buildings there were part of a complex called Pierce Plaza.

The project would use low-income housing tax credits to help pay for the work, said Julia Wilcock, vice president of business development for Volunteers of America Northern New England.

“We are particularly interested in working with the people who were living in the project that burned,” she said. “We want to work with the people who were displaced, that would be our primary preference. If there were units left over after we met that demand, it would be open.”

Wilcock and other representatives from the organization will present the plan Monday night to the Planning Board and Tuesday night to the City Council for a workshop. Monday’s meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall; Tuesday’s begins at 6 p.m. in City Hall.

A joint development agreement could come before the City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 17, for a vote.

Wilcock said the project could be ready for tenants by 2015. Because it would use low-income housing credits, the project would take that long to work its way through the process. That’s why the group is pushing to make a Sept. 26 filing deadline.

“The deadline is once a year, so we are running the gauntlet now, trying to get this ready,” Wilcock said. “It can take 16 to 18 months to work through the tax-credit process. If we wait another year, then it will be three to four years before we’re able to do anything at that site, and things can get forgotten. We don’t want that to happen.”

Wilcock said the project would have 30 housing units — 14 two-bedroom units, 11 three-bedroom and five four-bedroom. One unit would be set aside for an on-site property manager. The rest would be available to Section 8 voucher recipients.

Wilcock said the group was still working on designs. It had not decided whether the units would be built in a single building with a large, on-site park and a parking area or two adjacent units with a smaller park and parking area.

“But we will have elevations in time for Monday’s meeting,” she said. “We are working like crazy. Like I said, we really are running the gauntlet now.”

The May 3 fire started in a garage behind 149 Bartlett St. and spread to four apartment buildings on Bartlett and Pierce streets that housed a total of 31 rental units. The fire was ruled an arson. A now-13-year-old city boy was charged.

The value of the buildings totaled more than $1 million. They were demolished after authorities completed their investigation. No injuries were reported.

 

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