Revitalization grant program leaves some out in cold

Grant not open to all city business; owners skeptical
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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The City of Rocklin is moving forward with a new grant program that could provide fee relief and additional funds to give some Rocklin businesses’ a face lift. The Facade, Revitalization and Accessibility Grant Program is expected to provide matching funds to business owners up to $5,000 for eligible improvements to the visible portion of their businesses. The city is also expected to waive up to $9,888 in fees associated with the cost of completing the design review process, review of the proposal and advertising and conducting a public hearing and preparing the staff report and resolution for approval by the Planning Commission, according to the city. Primo Pizza Owner Nasser Sger wants to update his thriving Rocklin business by adding an outdoor patio dining area. “That (grant program) would be nice for everybody, not just me,” Sger said. Sger said he’s been especially waiting for relief from the city after he was told he would have to pay more than $4,000 for a permit and a hearing in front of the Planning Commission. “They asked for too much money for a permit and a hearing,” Sger said. “They said they would take six to seven months to get back to you. The summer would be over. This is for the summer time not winter. It’s an outdoor patio.” However, Sger will not get relief through this program. The Sunset Boulevard business owner was surprised to hear the program limits grant funds to businesses on Pacific Street from Midas to Farron Streets and Rocklin Road from Interstate 80 to Front Street. “I’m a Rocklin resident and I have a Rocklin business. They should give it to everybody, not just the ones on Pacific Street,” Sger said. The original concept included businesses on the historic Front Street, but the city was concerned about the cost of following the Historic Preservation guidelines for changes to facades to those businesses. At the April 26 council meeting where the program was discussed publicly, Council member Peter Hill said he wanted Front Street businesses precluded because of the higher costs.   “I think that would add more costs,” Hill said. “This program was really designed to help business people and there is really not that many businesses down there. I’d like to see it up on these three streets.” Council member Scott Yuill, who has been advocating for the program, explained the intent of the program. “It was not necessarily for historic businesses,” Yuill said. “It was for any going concerns downtown.” Yuill has worked with a coalition of businesses in the targeted area, called Rediscover Rocklin, to push for the development of what they view as Rocklin’s downtown area. Robert Habian, a business tenant on Front Street, told the council that while he doesn’t anticipate significant work on his own building, the disrepair of the historic street needs attention. “I am personally disappointed at some portions of Front Street in their current state,” Habian said. Rocklin City Manager Rick Horst said the program is designed to be a pilot program. “We have a targeted area we want to hit and limited funds,” Horst said. “The program is easily expandable at a future date.” The program was originally expected to have funds of upwards of $100,000, but the state budget crisis, which lead to the proposed closing of the Rocklin Redevelopment Agency, forced the city to rethink the financial plan. Right now, staff is proposing $25,000 be allocated from the City’s 2011-2012 Housing and Urban Development Entitlement Program. The city has been working on the concept of the business relief idea since July of 2010 and expects to present its plan to the council on May 24. Funds should be available to businesses this summer. Don Prather, owner of Rocklin’s Sign By Design, is hoping for an upswing in business as owners look to him for new signs on their facades. “I am very cautiously optimistic,” Prather said. “Because until the phone rings and somebody wants a sign I am out of business until someone else calls.” Last May, Prather encouraged the council to extend an economic program aimed at relieving sign design restrictions for businesses, but he admits after more than a year it has done little for his bottom line. “Very little business,” Prather said. “A lot of people were not overly aware.” Prather has been advertising the city’s program to help get the word out and hopes the new Facade Grant Program will be successful. He is hopeful the city’s new leadership will change some business owner’s hearts and minds. “We’re not adversarial. We all want to help the city so in these economic times how do we accomplish that? We all need to be singing off the same page,” Prather said. On Monday, the council held a rare joint session with the Planning Commission to discuss strategies to improve the process, the roles and the communication between the two bodies. “Periodic discussions like this help,” Yuill said. Sger, in the meantime, is waiting for the city to take citywide business concerns seriously, dropping the need for gimmicks. “I hope they will change, but for me it’s the same thing,” Sger said.