Attendees schooled on property improvement grants
Town staff, members of Council and downtown business owners were on hand at O’Leary’s Creamery on the morning of Feb. 18 for the BIA’s Breakfast event.
By Dan Rankin
Those who came out early for the Business Improvement Area’s event at O’Leary’s Creamery on Feb. 18 received more than a hearty breakfast. They also got some food for thought, on a pair of grants that are available for owners of downtown buildings looking to improve their facades or heritage components.
Presenting on the Facade Improvement Grant and Designated Heritage Property Grant was the town’s planning and development coordinator Susan Luckhardt. The first grant focuses on parts of buildings located in the downtown Community Improvement Area that are adjacent to public pedestrian ways or public roadways, Luckhardt said.
First introduced in 2006, its purpose is “escalating the economic climate,” so that local businesses “can function and flourish in a vibrant downtown that’s attractive to citizens and visitors,” she said.
The base grant for facades measuring 15 linear metres would cover 30 percent of a project’s cost to a maximum of $3,000 annually. Suggested types of projects for the facade grant include eaves-troughs, soffits, window repair, restoration, scraping and repainting. Features to make the front of a business accessible are also eligible. In addition to physical “bricks and mortar-type projects,” professional fees for architects and engineers are also eligible for the funding, Luckhardt said. For buildings with “exceptional” facades exceeding the 15 metres, “other steps to the program and additional funding can be received,” she said. Facade improvement grants are reviewed by staff for approval, and applications are taken on a first come, first served basis. 2016 applications are currently being received.
The budget available for grants is subject to Council approval, which is expected to take place next month. “So, if you have a project planned for this summer, get your application in sooner rather than later,” she said.
The Designated Heritage Property Grant was introduced by the Town in 2009. Like the facade grant, it exists to help property owners with building and property improvements, Luckhardt said, but with a focus on conservation and preservation of the heritage of the downtown. Unlike the facade grant, the heritage property grant includes work done to parts of a building not visible from the street or sidewalk.
“If you want to restore a feature at the back of the building, or if you want to do repairs to a foundation that is deemed critical to the heritage structure, it may be eligible to receive a heritage grant,” she said. “Heritage applications are first vetted by staff, then reviewed by the St. Marys Heritage Committee, and that committee provides a recommendation back to staff.”
“If your building sits within the central commercial district or is designated a heritage property under Part 4 of the Ontario Heritage Act, it’s eligible to apply for a heritage grant,” she said, adding that there are two parts to the heritage property grant. “One is for facade painting, and one is for work to architectural elements. Facade painting pays 50 percent of the costs of a project up to $2,500. Work to architectural elements pays substantially more, 50 percent up to $7,500.”
Luckhardt and director of building and development Grant Brouwer also gave tips to help make sure grant applications get approved.
Both types of grants requires a number of permits from the building and development department, as well as proof of ownership or signed permission by the owner, two written estimates, a site plan, drawings or photographs to show the project and a written description of the project, they said.
Of course, for properties located within the heritage conservation district, a heritage permit approved by the Heritage Conservation District Committee is also required before any work can take place, whether or not a grant application is being considered.
“We have tried to simplify the application forms to make this as simple as possible,” Luckhardt said. “We don’t want the process to be so onerous that people don’t apply.”
Brouwer invited interested parties to come down to the Municipal Operation Centre. “Come on in, we’ll help you fill out the paperwork and we’ll let you know what you need to do,” he said. “Pre-consult with us before you do any work. We’re here to help you.”
Detailed applications are very helpful to town staff as they process paperwork, they said. “If we have to send it back because the application is incomplete or there are missing components to it, then your application will be put to the end of the queue again,” Luckhardt said. “The heritage committee may have questions for the application, so having as much information go to them assists at that end as well.”
Based on several quotes he’s seen so far, building inspector Jason Silcox said, “if one quote is very detailed and the other one only has three lines, the committee is going to bounce it back to staff right away.” Staff will be more apt to accept two detailed quotes, he said.
Grant money will be based on the lowest of the two quotes provided, Luckhardt said. “You can hire whoever you want out of the two, but the money is based on the lowest of the two,” she said.
She also said that it’s very important that applicants do not start any work until they have final grant approval and have signed a letter of understanding. “Otherwise, any work started before that letter of understanding is signed will not be eligible for the funding,” she said. The deadline for 2016 grant projects to be completed is Dec. 15. “We do have allowances for unforeseen circumstances such as the weather, but we do need a request in writing asking for an extension,” she added.
With downtown Queen Street set to be rehabilitated this year, Luckhardt called 2016 an ideal time for businesses to move forward with any restoration and rehabilitation projects they may have been thinking of themselves.