Town officials and members of the Twin Villages Alliance are working together to explore the possibility of creating a business improvement district in downtown Damariscotta.
The Damariscotta Board of Selectmen recently submitted an application for an Assistance with Specific Know-How, or ASK, grant from the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission for assistance with developing a business improvement district in the downtown.
In a business improvement district, the businesses would pay an additional amount, similar to a tax, which would help to fund improvements to the district, such as improving signage, various amenities, and benches, Lutkus said.
The business improvement district would include a governing board made up of downtown business owners.
“We have been working with (Twin Villages Alliance Chair) Mary Kate Reny, and we see it as a great way to get all the businesses involved in what’s going on and give the downtown a voice,” Lutkus said.
Reny submitted a letter to the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission on behalf of the Twin Village Alliance’s board of directors in support of Damariscotta’s grant application.
“Now more than ever, the town of Damariscotta and TVA have been working together for the betterment of the downtown,” Reny said in her letter. “Both the pace and the complexity of a thriving downtown necessitate good communication and the ability to respectively and fairly work through the many issues, policies, and projects that involve both the municipality and the many businesses and property owners in Damariscotta’s commercial center.”
Lutkus said that the funds raised through the tax could be used for improvements to the municipal parking lot, however, he does not see it being a major revenue source.
“In my mind, the funds generated through the (business improvement district) would be more for improvements to the downtown or hiring consultants and other part-time employees,” Lutkus said.
Lutkus said a business improvement district would also help to preserve the downtown.
“We have a wonderful downtown that is the envy of many communities, and our focus needs to be on how we can preserve the thriving village atmosphere that we enjoy and that people come to see and experience,” Lutkus said. “We’re not looking to make major changes; we only want to preserve what we have.”
One discussion Lutkus anticipates having with the downtown business owners is about the historical preservation of the downtown.
“I don’t think many people realize just how vulnerable that area is,” Lutkus said. “If a developer were to buy one of the buildings and want to take it down, we as a town currently do not have a way to protect against that.”
Lutkus also hopes to give an update on the town’s flood resiliency projects and the efforts being made to protect against sea-level rise and storm surge. Lutkus said business owners may not be aware that changes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program could impact insurance premiums and property values.
Another discussion that could take place with the business improvement district would be the possibility of a pay-for-parking system in the downtown. Selectman Jim Cosgrove has expressed during multiple selectmen’s meetings that he would like to see the town continue to investigate pay-for- parking as a way to generate revenue for the town.
“Damariscotta is the downtown for the entire peninsula, and I think the town owes it to the taxpayers to look into ways to get the entire peninsula to participate in the cost of the maintenance and upkeep of the downtown,” Cosgrove said. “I appreciated the creative proposals put forth by the TVA, but it’s still a form of taxation on the residents of Damariscotta.”
Lutkus said the discussion of paid parking is still “very much on the table.”
“My direction comes from the selectmen, and it sounds like most, if not all, would like to continue to look at the potential for a pay-for-parking system,” Lutkus said. “I see that as being separate from the (business improvement district), however, the business association could be a partner in the development of any revenue-generation option.”
If Damariscotta is chosen to receive the $2,000 ASK grant, Lutkus said the town would conduct a study and hold meetings throughout the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The creation of a business improvement district could take place at the 2017 annual town meeting.