Lowering cap on development loans proposed

Friday, August 7, 2009

Lewisburg's City Council is poised ready to debate how much its Community Development Fund should be lending to downtown property owners who want to renovate their buildings.

"Several years ago, we put money in an account to have it available to improve the appearance of the public square and make loans at a very low rate of interest," City Manager Eddie Fuller explained.

Such revolving loan accounts aren't unusual and are frequently a result of grants that establish a pool of money that's replenished when the loans are repaid. Recently the Community Development Board recommended lowering the limit on the loans. The program has been changed in recent years.

"Originally, we had it where they'd get loans for the exterior of the building and we had it changed so you could do the interior as well with the low interest loan," Councilor Quinn Brandon said Wednesday.

"Then the Community Development Board voted to lower the amount that can be borrowed to $20,000," Brandon said. "It's been $100,000 for a while."

There's been only one loan.

It was for Deborah's, a restaurant run by Deborah Huber in a house that was built as a mirror image of what's now Victorian Melody on Church Street. The house that became Deborah's was renovated with a loan of up to $45,000, Fuller said. Not all of that money was used. The restaurant burned within the last four years.

"There was an application a couple of weeks ago," Brandon said. "David McKenzie, the attorney, wanted to establish a law office (so) he bought the building next to my office.

"I saw the inside of it and it needs more than $20,000" worth of work, the councilor said. "The front of the building looks OK, but the floor is bad and the plumbing is worse."

Fuller said there's also been discussion about changing the repayment schedule.

As for a loan's cap, Brandon said, "I'd like to keep it where it is (at $100,000) because I want to encourage more people to renovate the downtown area."

The Council is scheduled to convene at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

Beyond housekeeping matters such as rewriting the contract with Lewisburg Electric Department on in-lieu of tax payments, and applying for another safety grant to buy hard hats, safety glasses and similar equipment, the Council has two items that could attract public attention.

* One is to add a definition of bottle clubs to the city's zoning code. Bottle clubs are private bars. In big cities, they're also known as after hours clubs. Because the businesses do not sell alcohol, there's no license required for their operation. They simply sell set-ups - ice, glasses and non-alcoholic mixers for liquor that's brought in by the customer, or club member. While some city officials have said they're unaware of bottle clubs here, the prospect was revealed during discussion when one of the town's beer laws was being enforced.

* Another item is to finalize new rules regarding the solicitation of contributions to various organizations. An up-date on the ordinance would call for enforcement of nearly 10 rules, largely to protect juveniles from the dangers of traffic, but also - according to comments at meetings on this subject - to reduce the prospect of so-called charity roadblocks from dissuading motorists from driving on the square. It's a measure that's presented as maintaining a traffic flow for merchants. Sports and school clubs had been soliciting donations on South Ellington Parkway. A girl was hurt and the Council responded by making such collections illegal anywhere in town except on the square.