Sometime next year, Clinton mayor Lew Starling said he wants a specific day that will mark a beautiful beginning for the city of Clinton, a date that can be targeted by city property owners as a collective unveiling of revamped buildings.
At the recent City Council meeting, planning and community development director Mary Rose detailed various city incentive programs and the work that has been done so far with private property owners in the downtown. To go along with the downtown revitalization endeavors, the new art piece and various other city endeavors, planning officials have also been able to help individual property owners, she said.
She reviewed with Council tools the city has to require property owners to improve the appearance of their buildings and the funding opportunities that are available to assist with projects. She presented four tools, two of which were regulatory tools and two being incentive tools.
The two incentive tools used to assist property owners with the expense of repairing aging or deteriorating structures — or building new ones — include the Downtown Clinton Facade Grant and Downtown Special Tax District Incentive programs. The facade grant program allows for small grants to dress up the fronts of businesses.
“Qualifying projects are eligible for a grant of up to $1,000 per facade on a 50/50 matching, reimbursement basis,” said Rose. “Since the implementation of this program in December 2011, there have been five recipients of these funds, including Sessoms Jewelry, Tickled Pink, Howard & Bradshaw, Greg Thornton and the Sampson Crisis Center.”
The tax incentive encourages the rehabilitation of older buildings and promotes infill growth with new commercial development in the special tax district. One property owner has taken advantage of that program, leading to the construction of the Fine Arts Center on Vance Street.
“To date, that property owner has benefited to the tune of approximately $10,000,” said Rose, “due to the fact he has been granted back the difference between the original tax value of the property and the current improved value of the property after construction of the Fine Arts Center. For two years he has taken advantage of that program to the tune of about $10,700 and he has three years left in that grant program. So, that has been a major financial incentive to this property owner.”
The grant time period is proposed as five years, during which the developer pays the full amount of the newly appraised tax value of property annually and the Sampson County and the city of Clinton “grant back” the owner the amount paid, minus the original tax value payment before the renovations began.
On the sixth year, the developer will pay the full amount of the newly appraised tax value of the property without the grant.
“The other tools that we have in our toolbox to address issues downtown would be ‘Unsafe Buildings Condemned,’ which was special legislation that we went to the General Assembly and obtained several years ago. This is a tool that usually addressed buildings that are vacant and dilapidated and causing a problem as far as crime and vagrancy, things of that nature. I’m proud to say we don’t have a lot of those type buildings within our downtown so we haven’t used this tool very much.”
Another tool that has not gotten as much use is “Demolition by Neglect,” a part of the City of Clinton Land Development Ordinance which addresses the protection from decay and deterioration of the exterior of buildings located within the downtown Clinton commercial historic district.
Under each of those two regulatory tools, the zoning administrator must provide notice to the property owner and a hearing must be held to consider evidence relating to the matter. Following the hearing, property owners are given 60 days to remedy the conditions. If repairs are not completed during that time, the Council may direct the zoning administrator to have the necessary action performed and the cost incurred would be placed as a lien against the property with interest added.
After a 10-year period, the city could foreclose on the property and recoup the money invested along with the interest.
“So we do have several tools available to address downtown properties, and I believe that the property owners have been taking advantage of a lot of the positive incentive programs,” said Rose. “We’ve been applauded by the recent Main Street team that came down on how clean our downtown looks, and we can attribute that to our Public Works department. We do have other tools, however, that can require property owners to address their individual properties that may be deteriorating.”
Rose said those matters would be investigated if they are brought to the city’s attention.
Starling said his vision was to have a date down the road where businesses could reveal new looks.
“I’d like for us to have a ‘Show Off the City’ day,” said Starling. “We would say to our city business owners that we’re going to set, for example, next June 1 as Show Off the City day. We want everybody to have their buildings painted, so we can showcase our hometown.”
If anyone has a “hardship,” Starling said, it is not the city’s intent to embarrass them, but rather make them aware of programs available that might offset the cost of facade or building projects. The mayor said it was a work in progress, with a goal of city building beautification in mind.
“We are trying to strongly encourage owners to do that and we’re just discussing tools we have to further nudge those along,” said Starling. “We’re working toward — and I want Council to be thinking about this — setting a date six, eight, 10 months out and say this is when we show off our downtown. I think that would be a good restoration of our downtown. We’re working closely with staff to do that, and we’ll sort of roll that out tonight.”
Anyone wishing to inquire about either of the incentive programs, or with any other questions, can call the City of Clinton Planning Department at 910-299-4904 ext. 3017.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.