It’s a tool that has worked in hundreds of communities across Ontario, and soon Millbrook will have its own Community Improvement Plan designed to help drive economic growth in the downtown area.
Regulated under the Planning Act, these plans encourage the revitalization of an area by offering financial incentives in the form of loans and/or grants to property owners and tenants to improve and redevelop public and private spaces with physical improvements that are often expensive. Participating municipal governments use these plans to rejuvenate an area which they deem to be in need of physical improvements due to age, dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangement, unsuitability of buildings or to achieve another environmental, social or community economic development need such as improved energy efficiency. Funds are only available for future projects- there are no retroactive incentives.
Much work has been done to improve the downtown area already, according to Stantec’s Nancy Reid who is spearheading the plan under the direction of Cavan Monaghan’s Economic & Community Development Coordinator Brigid Ayotte. Last fall the township approved Streetscape and Design Guidelines which outlined a vision for a coherent, attractive downtown core presenting a consistent character for the downtown area based on solid design principles. It included changes to promote a pedestrian-friendly environment, protecting significant views and building access points as well as suggestions regarding materials, colours and styles of decorative elements to be used in the area to portray a distinct and consistent image reflecting the character of the community.
The current committee has also sought community input through surveys, stakeholder workshops and public information sessions to customize the plan to meet local needs and objectives. The process identified some key local goals including façade and building maintenance and restoration; priority areas for redevelopment such as the vacant property across from the LCBO as well as the arena site; the attraction of specific types of businesses; the improvement or development of public spaces including gathering spaces; and improved linkages with the downtown core.
Reid explained that CIP’s are customized by each community. The municipality defines its own incentives which can be phased in and out over the course of the 10 year duration of the plan. Typical incentives included tax grants, grants for improvements to façades and signage and landscape, energy efficiency retrofits, accessibility improvements, building conversions, public art, and even grants for designs, studies and planning and permit fees.
Feedback so far suggests the highest priority projects will focus on façade, building, property and landscape improvement grants, followed by tax incentives for significant redevelopment projects which will likely focus on areas such as the arena location. Reid emphasized that a CIP should include a comprehensive list of incentives and encouraged decision- makers to not limit their selections too narrowly.
CIP programs are reported to generate significant leverage in areas where they have been implemented, having a domino effect on physical improvements. As an example Reid indicated that in Haldimand County, their every dollar invested through their CIP resulted in a $5 investment of private funds for improvement projects.
Eligible projects must meet the following criteria:
- Fall within the CIP boundary
- Represent a physical investment in redevelopment or rejuvenation of a property
- Adhere to design guidelines established in the Township’s July 2017 Streetscape Plan
- conform to all existing planning policies
- Property owners are current in their tax bills
A draft program is expected this fall, followed by a mandatory public meeting prior to a final decision by Council. KG