Applications for Downtown Swanton Façade Enhancement Program Grants Disallowed, Misinterpretation of Eligibility Requirements Cited

For the calendar year of 2021, the Swanton Village Council appropriated $30,000 for their Downtown Façade Enhancement Program, a program that was adopted in November of 2019 and implemented in 2020.  A detailed explanation of the program as well as an application can be found in a six-page document on the Village’s website under Resources/Doing Business in Swanton/Assistance.

Funds from the program come in the form of a grant which is explained on the website. “This is a 50% reimbursement of expenses directly related to qualifying building improvements, to front facades, of properties within the downtown target area up to a match of $10,000.  Property owners may re-apply annually for available funds, but priority will go to first-time applicants.  The Village of Swanton will pay the contractor directly for approved grant funded project,” it states.

The website also describes what an “Eligible Improvement” is.  “Eligible improvements include all exterior improvements of an eligible downtown building front façade.”  This statement is followed by a list of what that may include.

This year, six applications for the grant money were sent to Village Administrator Rosanna Hoelzle who, in turn, gave them to the committee responsible for reviewing and determining the eligibility of the applications.  Kevin Young, a member of the committee and an architect by trade, presented the committee’s decisions to the Village Council at the April 12 Council meeting.

“After reviewing them, the consensus was that they were all maintenance related, not enhancement related.  And it didn’t really meet what we’re intending and wanting for the program to achieve,” explained Mr. Young.  He recalled a zoom meeting from 2020 that was attended by several business owners as well as himself and Ms. Hoelzle where the objectives of the program were explained and suggested it would be a good idea to now have an in-person meeting where he would use a PowerPoint presentation to better explain “what we’re actually looking for.”

Ms. Hoelzle, who does not serve on the committee but does attend the meetings and takes notes, gave an example of the difference between an “improvement” and an “enhancement”.  “Two of the of the six applications were painting them (facades) the same color, she said.  “Though painting is an eligible criterion, but this is literally the exact same color.  You’re looking at it from afar there’s not that potential for enhancement.  It just looks like you painted it the same color.  That was part of the conversation.”

Mr. Young cited two other applications that were more maintenance related in the committee’s thinking such as replacing a roof or completing a soffit project.  “There’s nothing in there that says the funds have to be used, said Ms. Hoelzle.  “I think what Mr. Young is saying is maybe it’s beneficial to take a step back.  This is intended to try and bring people downtown and frequent these businesses.  They (the committee) want this program to really be that ‘wow’ factor.  To really do something to enhance it.”

Ms. Hoelzle recommended to take Mr. Young up on his offer to give a PowerPoint presentation to the downtown property/business owners to give them a better understanding of what the intent of the program is, keep the six applications active and reevaluate after.  There was no more discussion on the issue.

Pictured:  Kevin Young explains committee decision on Downtown Façade Enhancement Program Grants

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