FREE e-scribe now!

This week’s edition!

City of Lewiston Overhauls Zoning Ordinances 

LEWISTON, ME (June 9, 2023) – After several months of public dialogue, the City of Lewiston announced today it has completed an extensive update to its zoning ordinances. The upgraded ordinances reflect a fresh approach to zoning ordinances that have largely gone untouched for decades. The amended ordinances are now more efficient, user-friendly and clear — helping to pave the way for developers, businesses, and homeowners. Every ward in Lewiston will benefit from these new zoning ordinance improvements. 

“By updating our current zoning ordinances, we are working to remove obstacles to economic development and create more housing attainability,” said Lewiston 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.”

 “Updating the city’s zoning has been a top priority of this City Council,” said City Administrator Heather Hunter. “I applaud the Planning staff as they jumped through hoops and literally scoured through thousands of detailed changes and dozens of substantive changes to bring our outdated zoning ordinances up-to-date.”

 “Our objective is to foster and support reform of inefficient and outdated ordinance language,” said Shelley Norton, Lewiston City Planner. “With these changes, ordinances are more reflective of today’s environment. Many of the current zoning provisions were adopted in the late 1980’s. Zoning and land use practices have since evolved and so should the ordinances to help the city continue moving forward.” City Planning and Code Enforcement staff have worked aggressively over the last 12 months to make these sweeping changes and City Council approved the changes over a period of months, the most recent will take effect on June 16. 

These changes allow for a greater mix of commercial use, encourage more housing and gearing up for upcoming changes to state housing laws. As the second largest city in Maine, Lewiston’s former ordinances did not put the city in a position to grow. Yet, with the new ordinances, the city addresses a wide range of topics from parking requirements to redefining accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to housing density to rezoning the three main commercial arterials, Sabattus Street, Lisbon Street and Main Street, to increase business and housing opportunities: 

The city has modified the zoning of nearly 375 properties within Sabattus Street, Lisbon Street and Main Street corridors. These modifications include increasing the depth of commercial zoning districts, reducing setbacks providing more space for development to occur on properties, and providing more opportunities for multi-family development.

Additionally, in these three corridors, the highway business zone now permits multi-family development. This has been done to increase housing supply, make more efficient use of the land, enhance 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 have been significantly reduced providing 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 to increase neighborhood vibrancy and quality of life. 

Previously the city required open space and passive recreational areas in the 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 for creative recreation solutions more likely to use in the downtown, such as indoor recreation spaces, balconies, and rooftop decks.  

Recognizing that the cost to build a city accepted street is expensive, private right-of-way provisions have been developed where backlot development for up to six residential lots or two non-residential lots may now occur. This option provides more opportunities for development at a cost significantly less than that of a city accepted street. 

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. For the homeowner who wants a small tool shed, a city permit is no longer required.

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

About 13 percent of Americans have backyard chickens and 100,000 Americans keep bees. Now, more Lewiston homeowners will have the opportunity for keeping bees and chickens with reductions in setbacks for bees and lot sizes for chicken keeping, while maintaining some restrictions to help address concerns of neighbors. 

According to the US Small Business Association, 50 percent of all small businesses begin at home. Lewiston has expanded its home occupation rules in recognition that the work environment has changed. More types of businesses may be started in the home, however permits and rules may still apply to preserve residential neighborhoods. 

Part of the expansions now allow one employee to work at a home business further supporting economic growth and job opportunities within the community. As such, the city has altered zoning rules related to home occupations to provide more opportunities for home business and entrepreneurs to operate in residential areas. For example, the city now permits if the home business has an employee; operates where the public comes on-site and which manages one client at a time by appointment only, even allowing uses like farm stands, small engine repair, automotive detailing; woodworking shops; food sales handling, or processing while insuring a process remains to consider possible impacts to neighbors.

 The city’s new Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) language not only helps ease the housing crunch but also provides opportunity for additional income and expands greater flexibility to homeowners. Previously, ADUs had to be attached to the home and occupied by a family member, but with these updates, ADUs can also be detached from the primary structure and may be rented out also offering an option for the home owner to gain rental income.

“With the support of the Planning Board and City Council, the city has adopted many changes consistent with the Comprehensive Plan – Legacy Lewiston, the Riverfront Island Master Plan and its recent update, and the Choice Neighborhood Transformation Plan-Growing Our Tree Streets. The amendments were needed as zoning and land use practices have evolved, as well as changing economic and development approaches. With more changes to come, these initiatives will help Lewiston progress and grow in a sustainable and meaningful direction” said Director of Planning and Code Enforcement David Hediger. 

For more about the zoning modifications, visit or contact the City’s Planning and Code Enforcement Department at (207) 513-3125.

Leave a Reply

Contact Us!

89 Union Street, Suite 1014
Auburn, ME 04210
(207) 795-5017