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Streetscaping plan draws many to CRA meeting

By Staff | Sep 1, 2015

While many of the stakeholders in the CRA district think that streetscaping is a great way to improve the look of the area, the plan to make it happen through revolving loans might not be the best way.

That is what a packed house at the Chester Street Resource Center told the CRA advisory board during a special meeting Tuesday.

In fact, several of them brought up the possibility nobody even thought of when the meeting began: a special assessment to have the entire CRA District streetscaped.

City staff came up with a plan to foster redevelopment in the CRA District by offering a Streetscape Incentive Program that would put up 25 percent of the cost for eligible streetcape improvements up to $50,000 as a way to encourage public investment.

Percides Zambrano, Public Works Planning Manager, gave the stakeholders the course in Streetscaping 101, explaining what it was while admitting the plan was a work in progress and hasn’t been put into practice.

It would use pavers to line the sidewalks, while making the walkway wider by moving the curb and, if necessary, remove trees, especially those that potentially can cause reflective sidewalks, damaging them.

But as more people got up to speak, it became abundantly clear that a revolving loan could prove troublesome.

Shelly Lapaglia, owner of Backstreets, said she was excited about enhancing the look of the buildings downtown, since it would enhance the value of her building.

However, Lapaglia learned as an applicant that the streets cannot be streetscaped 50 feet at a time, which is what could potentially happen through this program.

For one, having one area streetscaped and others not streetscaped wouldn’t look good. Secondly, it would be cost prohibitive.

“The curbing would cost way too much money. We have to do it in a group. Four or five stakeholders would have to put their land together to get the price down,” Lapaglia said.

CRA advisory board chairman Ed Ramos asked City Manager John Szerlag if streetscaping could be done the same way it was on Lafayette Street, which was a quarter-mile. Ramos said it was certainly add to the buying power.

Szerlag explained that it could be paid for by special assessment, as the CRA doesn’t have the capital to fund the plan itself and the CRA nearly went bankrupt a couple years ago.

Lapaglia, along with Joanne Elardo, who owns a building in South Cape, said a special assessment might be an alternative as a way for the entire walkway to be streetscaped.

“I agree with it. I think a lot of business owners would probably be upset because they can’t afford it, but I believe it’s the only way to get the whole project done and will enhance everybody’s business,” Lapaglia said.

“I think it’s very positive and a great step for the South Cape and we have a dedicated community that is looking to make the area much nicer,” Elardo said. “I believe an assessment needs to be looked at, it’s a benefit for the community because it has to do with the roads and sewer.”

Ramos and members of the board said it was great to see all the stakeholders in one room at the same time, brainstorming different ideas.

“The streetscaping program could be very impactful for the CRA. The property owners want consistency. I did not see any resistance toward an assessment or bond, so perhaps that’s the direction the people want to take,” Ramos said.

“It’s great we’re all talking about it and that all these people are in the same place. I hadn’t thought of a special assessment,” board member Lynn Pippinger said. “It’s an option to look at.”