CRC Facade Grants

At the November Meeting of the Culver Redevelopment Commission (CRC) there was a discussion on Facade Grants. This is one of the ways the CRC uses Tax Incremental Finance (TIF) money to improve the town. There was some discussion on the ambiguity of the application. It sounds like that’s an issue as there have been a lot of misconceptions with them. I struggle with these grants for a few reasons:

  1. In the past, CRC members have literally gone up and down the street trying to talk people into using these grants. While I think they should be a tool to encourage businesses (buildings) to make necessary repairs and improvements, I don’t know that the dollars should be treated as a line item that the CRC must spend every year. Letting some build-up in that fund would let them do more when there’s a need. (Building up funds may be harder now that there is a State required yearly budget…)
  2. The grants should be used as an incentive and not just a reimbursement, i.e. when someone has already completed work or is in the process of doing so, let them be! They obviously had budgeted the work and had it covered. Maybe talk to them about incentives to do more, but don’t retroactively give them grant money. (If they have already begun the work, they can’t even meet the preliminary minimum requirements expected of a normal applicant.)
  3. The grant area should be expanded outside the TIF districts more often. It’s common for other CRC funds to be used outside the TIF district for “things that benefit the TIF district”. Improving the facades throughout town benefits the ambiance of the whole town in the same way.

I have mixed feelings about the above, as I think the CRC members do too, but clearing up the ambiguity and making the applications more accessible would help with that. It’s ironic they’re having the discussion about the accessibility of the Facade Grant program when the link to the application is currently broken on the Town website. (I’ve included the link a couple of time here in case it is repaired soon. Culver’s Clerk Treasurer says there is a new site in the works, so updating the old site has become less of a priority.)

In a way, Facade Grants address blight. OCRA has a blight clearance program that specifically addresses blight, so maybe a separate CRC Blight Clearance program is appropriate. This could be a way of cleaning up properties that need it. By putting in place a specific program with criteria, it would allow the CRC to make decisions about moving properties in and out of the TIF districts when blight is addressed. Currently the Facade Grant program specifically excludes demolition, which is appropriate since demolition generally results in a lower assessed property value. (TIF districts capture the increased assessed value of properties when improvements are made, but they also suffer the losses created when a property in the TIF is devalued, i.e. through unrepaired fire and storm damage or through demolition.)

In my mind, if a Blight Clearance program is created, it should be expanded to include residential properties in Culver as well. While they would not be directly TIF related, there’s no doubt that the removal of derelict houses would improve the town as a whole. An incentive like this could be useful in motivating an owner to take the necessary steps, where the efforts to force things through the unsafe building committee have been unsuccessful. I’ve not researched this, so there may be pitfalls of which I’m not aware. Most Redevelopment Commissions make more use of the “things that benefit the TIF district” clause than Culver does.

I think the CRC is mostly on the right track with the Facade Grant Program, but as with most volunteer boards and commissions, they suffer a bit of ADHD, causing a flurry of activity around the latest “problem” and allowing last month’s topic to languish until a problem concerning it bubbles to the surface again. I am completely confident they can walk and chew gum at the same time. Keeping things on the agenda until they’re resolved might be the key.

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