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Posted April 11, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Strasburg eyes grants for downtown, Sandy repairs

By Alex Bridges

Strasburg officials have set their sights on grants to improve downtown and to pay for damage from last year's storms.

Town Council held a public hearing on Monday on a proposal to apply for funds through the federal Community Development Block Grant program administered by the state's Department of Housing and Community Development.

No one spoke at the public hearing on the resolution in support of the application on Monday. The agency requires the town to hold two public hearings, the second of which will be held at 7 p.m. this Monday.

Town Manager Judson Rex said Wednesday that Strasburg could receive grant money to help its ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown. The town plans to seek a business district revitalization planning grant of $35,000. Such a grant would go to cover the cost of creating a plan that outlines how Strasburg would use other funds to revitalize the downtown. The smaller grant could help the town receive larger amounts of funding to put plans in place, Rex said.

The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission in Front Royal is assisting Strasburg with the grant applications. Executive Director Martha Shickle explained the process and the agency's role in aiding the town.

"It's really just to elaborate on the existing planning efforts that they've had and to identify strategies that hopefully will lead to a future project funding application with the [state department]," Shickle said. "So at this point we're in the planning phases."

The granting agency recommends applicants for larger amounts submit the planning request first, Rex explained. Shickle concurred.

"It helps to mobilize the community, put together a management team and to be able to develop a really clear strategy for how a funding proposal would be developed and how that would be administered," Shickle said.

The director noted that this marks the first time the commission has participated in the process to apply for such a planning grant. The application process opened in January. While the commission is not required to participate, the agency does write letters of support for such endeavors, Shickle said.

Strasburg would compete with other applicants for a piece of the statewide pool of $500,000 set aside for planning grants, Shickle said. The agency awards up to $50,000 for each planning grant.

Strasburg leaders and staff recently adopted a Downtown Plan with the commission's assistance. As Shickle explained, this planning grant would take the town to the next step of the downtown revitalization process.

Results of the planning could include efforts by Strasburg to apply for funding that creates a low-interest loan program for downtown property owners, Shickle said. The loan program could give property owners the opportunity to rehabilitate and improve building fa├žades

The resolution of support for the application states that the town "greatly values its downtown business district, the revitalization of which is of highest concern."

The commission's future involvement with the town through the revitalization planning process may be determined if and when Strasburg receives the grant award, Shickle said.

The commission also is assisting the town in its efforts to receive funds through the department's Urgent Needs grant program. Such grant money would supplement any funds the town may receive from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Rex said.

Hurricane Sandy caused severe damage to some area roads, including Ash Street in Strasburg. While the town has long since repaired the road, Strasburg incurred the cost to fix the main thoroughfare. Rex said staff members are still calculating what the town spent on repairing damage from the hurricane.

The state has $1 million reserved for the urgent need grant applications, Shickle said. Each community can apply for up to $700,000 per project. Shickle said the grant application for the Ash Street repairs likely would fall well below the $700,000 limit.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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