There may soon be a new incentive for downtown property owners and tenants to spruce up their storefronts.
The Town Board here is expected to take a second look, possibly a final one, at a proposed facade improvement grant program for downtown Zebulon at its Dec. 5 meeting.
After presenting draft guidelines for the program on Nov. 15, Zebulon Planning Director Mark Hetrick was asked to make revisions based on board feedback and come back next month with some recommendations on who would fill a committee responsible for carrying out the initial reviews of prospective applicants.
Commissioners seemed in agreement last week that a facade grant review committee would serve much like the town’s Technical Review Committee, but would forward recommendations to the Town Board for final decisions on the grants.
“I don’t think we need to be reviewing it and picking it to death as the board,” Commissioner Beverly Clark said. “I think we need give that responsibility to the review committee.”
Clark asked if the committee would include residents, local beautification activists and town staff. Hetrick said it would be good to have a mix of people with construction and beautification backgrounds.
The proposed guidelines are similar to the streetscape match policy the town approved Oct. 3. The town board budgeted $10,000 toward a facade improvement grant program this year.
Commissioners supported the idea of the facade improvement grants coming as reimbursements, available for up to 50 percent of the total cost of projects, with a limit of $2,500 for the town’s share.
They also had no issues with the grants being limited to one application per property per year, and with properties only being eligible to be awarded the grant once every five years. Depending on the number of requests, the draft guidelines state, the review committee may place eligible properties that aren’t selected during the current funding period on a waitlist.
The program, Hetrick said, is intended to stimulate private investment.
“Hopefully (it will) get some of these improvements and property owners who have been contemplating putting some of these improvements on their building to make that step, and in doing so it also enhances the appearance and condition of some of the commercial structures downtown,” Hetrick said. “We feel it would be a good support system for property owners and local businesses downtown, and I think as shown in some of the renderings that it would have a large impact on the attractiveness and marketability of some of the downtown and surrounding areas.”
Among things the Town Board considered at the meeting were who is eligible to apply for the grants and what types of criteria were in place regarding the improvements.
Commissioners agreed that either property owners, or tenants with written consent from the property owners, could put in for the funding.
“We don’t want to be funding something the property owner doesn’t want done to his building or her building,” Mayor Bob Matheny said.
Commissioner Dale Beck asked about setting appearance criteria for a future review committee to consider.
“You don’t want it to where everything is kind of together and then you’ve got something that stands out,” Beck said.
Hetrick’s response was the current town ordinance has some protective control over aesthetics, like requiring earth tones on building fronts.
More detailed design guidelines could be hashed out, Hetrick said, as the town works through the process of creating an unified development ordinance.
“At least in the initial program, it’s more of just repair and replacement of existing (features), because we don’t have those guidelines to go by,” Hetrick said. “So we would have to look at it and evaluate it on a case-by-case basis.”
Eligible improvements included in the program draft are repair and replacement of exterior doors, awnings, windows and lighting.
Ineligible expenditures listed are new building construction, building permit and legal fees, pest extermination, acquisition of real or personal property, sweat equity, improvements made prior to the grant approval, repairs not integral to the building’s exterior facade improvement, and general, routine or deferred maintenance and cleaning.
“It looks like there could be a thousand different types of improvements on those buildings down there,” Commissioner Don Bumgarner said. “Somebody’s got to determine, ‘well it really doesn’t fit into replacing the windows,’ or, ‘it really doesn’t fit into the lighting, it really doesn’t fit into the awnings.’”
Commissioner Glenn York asked what would happen to the budgeted funds if no one applied for the facade grant, wanting to know if the funds would roll over to the next fiscal year. Matheny’s answer was that the board can determine each year during budget season how much to fund for the program, based on interest.