CDBG business facade upgrades in doubt

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Three owners of downtown Bridgton properties face an uphill challenge in convincing the Board of Selectmen that they deserve a piece of the Community Development Block Grant Program pie.

Beth Doonan of Beth’s Café, Charles and Pat Renneker, Depot Street building owners, and Julie Mannix and Michael Denison of Village Kitchen & Bath all have requested façade improvement funding from the $119,500 in 2014 CDBG funds available July 1 for “bricks & mortar” projects to alleviate downtown slum and blight.

However, selectmen, having established improvements to Depot Street and Town Hall as priorities this year, are leaning against granting CDBG funds to any for-profit enterprises. They came close Tuesday to voting to limit 2014 applications to nonprofits, but chose instead to follow the state-proscribed review process before taking formal action. The schedule calls for an initial presentation and review by the board on March 11, with a formal public hearing on March 25.

“I’m concerned about taking applications out of the mix until they’ve been heard,” Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development Anne Krieg told the board. Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz agreed, saying, “You have no choice but to listen. If you take a formal vote now, you’re predetermining the outcome.”

Berkowitz noted, however, that the board was fully within its right, under Housing and Urban Development compliance rules for use of CDBG funds, to give priority status to municipal projects. “You’ve made that message clear (and) that’s completely appropriate.”

The CDBG Review Committee, comprised of Greg Watkins, Mike Tarantino, Madelyn Litz and Rosie Schacht, had earlier met and recommended $70,000 of the $119,500 in “bricks & mortar” funding be set aside for municipal projects. Of the remaining $49,000, the committee made the following recommendation, based on applications for CDBG funding submitted to the town:

• Beth’s Café (Doonan) — $3,800

• 16 Depot Street (Rennekers) — $4,900

• 18A Depot Street (Rennekers) — $5,500

• 6 Harrison Road (Mannix, Denison) — $12,800

• 121 Main Street (Rufus Porter Museum) — $22,000

Of the above list, only the Rufus Porter Museum is nonprofit.

The Depot Street Streetscape Project includes a full road reconstruction with sewer work, sidewalks, streetlights and other amenities from Main Street to Corn Shop Brook. It will cost around $100,000, with $30,000 coming from previously unused CDBG funds. A recently-completed Town Hall engineering study has identified around $75,000-$100,00 in needed structural repairs, and selectmen want some CDBG funding to do that work. The board also feels strongly about moving forward with new directional signs in downtown, new lights and sidewalk replacement on Main Street, and providing a generator backup system for the sewer system in case of power failure.

“We had talked about using as much of this (CDBG) money as we can for projects we know we’re going to have in town, so (the cost) doesn’t go on taxpayers,” Selectman Paul Hoyt said Tuesday. With so many pressing municipal needs, he said, “Why have them make formal presentations on things we’re not going to be interested in?”

Berkowitz said HUD’s “slum and blight” elimination requirement can be interpreted narrowly, and “We get challenged,” as in 2006, when CDBG funds were used for municipal parking lot construction. After the board reviews and finalizes the funding allotments, the report will be forwarded to the Cumberland County CDBG Program for review for compliance with HUD requirements.

A map of the downtown’s “slum and blight” district was created in 2005, and is up for review next year. Krieg said she will provide the map at the board’s March 11 meeting.

Beth’s Café

In her application to the town, Doonan said the left façade of her building at 108 Main Street is in need of repair, and she wants to be part of the downtown’s revitalization efforts. “It is quite visible from (Main Street). Some clapboards need replacing, the paint is peeling off. The previous owners began painting, and left it unfinished.”

Depot St. buildings

The Rennekers said in their applications that façade improvements to the 16 and 18A Depot Street buildings will “meet the community goal of retaining its New England small town character,” since the buildings are two of only four remaining historical structures on the street.

“Three of these were once associated with the Narrow Gauge Railroad that once connected western Maine to Portland,” the application states. 18A Depot Street, known as the “red barn,” is a circa 1900 warehouse, that currently houses Mo’s Electric and Solar. 16 Depot Street, next door, is currently used for apartments with plans for three retail and/or professional businesses.

Village Kitchen & Bath

Façade work to 6 Harrison Road will allow completion of renovations begun by previous owners on a visible building at Pondicherry Square, say owners Julie Mannix and Michael Denison. They had requested $31,029, but the committee lowered that figure to $12,800. The application states that the main building needs repairs from water damage and a new entrance porch roof. The studio building needs a new roof and chimney and replacement of rotten sill as needed. The work would, “beautify and restore historic architecture at the gateway to downtown Bridgton,” the application states.

Rufus Porter Museum

The next step in relocating the Rufus Porter Museum to the historic Webb House at 121 Main Street is to tear down the apartment and garage addition, states their application for CDBG funds. “When the blighted additions are removed, the museum will expand the use of the property into a museum campus,” eventually by replacing the garage and addition with a barn-style structure to mimic the barn that once stood there. This barn would house Rufus Porter murals now in storage. The project also eventually involves moving the current Church House museum building on North High Street to the site.

CDBG funds for services, too

A total of $25,000 should be set aside from Community Development Block Grant funds to help Bridgton’s low income residents with food, fuel, clothing and coping, the CDBG Review Committee recommends.

After meeting to review this year’s slate of applications, the committee made the following recommendations:

• Community Kettle Suppers — $3,000

• Bridgton Fuel Collaborative — $7,000

• Bridgton Food Pantry — $1,800

• Community H.E.L.P. — $2,000

• Navigator Program — $10,000

• St. Peter’s Church Meals — $1,200

Selectmen received the list Tuesday and will begin reviewing these service-oriented requests, along with bricks and mortar project requests, at their meeting on Tuesday, March 11. The final decision rests with the board.

The six initiatives that were recommended for funding were culled from XX applications. Nonprofit organizations that were passed over this year were the Bridgton Art Guild ($4,000); On Eagles Wings ($20,000); Susan Curtis Foundation for Camp Susan Curtis ($7,200); and Women’s Initiative St. Peter’s Church ($1,500);

St. Peter’s Church has run a once-a-month evening meal at their church since January 2013, and had requested $1,500 to support continuation of the program, which is currently funded by private donations.

The Community Navigator Project is a new pilot program to create a true “resource and referral hub” at the Bridgton Community Center for low-income services to residents. The funds would be used to hire a half-time staff person to serve as Community Navigator, who would focus on addressing barriers to accessing services, such as knowledge, fear, embarrassment and lack of transportation. He or she would help build a “stronger social network” of neighbors helping neighbors, and expand the center’s role as “a cultural broker between available resources and those in need.”

Community H.E.L.P. had sought $5,000 in support of operating its clothing and household item building on Nulty Street.

 

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