Seymour Mayor Matt Nicholson aims to improve neighborhoods and increase residential housing options in the city by making it a focus of his administration in 2021.

One way he wants to tackle this goal is by supporting homeowners through a new curb appeal grant program.

Nicholson introduced the idea while giving the annual State of the City address during Monday’s Seymour City Council meeting. He plans to bring more details of the program back to the council at the March 8 meeting.

To be modeled after similar offerings in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and upstate New York, the program, if approved by the council, provides a matching grant as an incentive to property owners to enhance the exterior appearance or curb appeal of their homes and properties.

Eligible projects could include things like fixing a sidewalk in front of a home, redoing or adding flower beds or flower boxes, replacing or painting a front door or shutters, repairing gutters, exterior painting, pressure washing or replacing siding, landscaping, repairing driveways or replacing mailboxes or house numbers.

The city would match the amount invested by the homeowner up to $500.

“So if you spend $1,000, you can get $500 reimbursed,” Nicholson said. “We’ve got the funds set aside in the budget from last year to do such a thing.”

If neighbors apply together, they could receive up to a $750 match.

“It’s a chance for neighbors to get to know each other a little bit, and when we improve just one house, it leads to good things. If we do two, it’s even bigger,” Nicholson said.

Such a program would be similar to the city granting tax abatements to companies and businesses for expansion and real estate improvement projects, he added.

“In my mind, it’s a lot like that except it’s for residential property,” he said. “We’re not giving them an abatement, but we are offering a grant match. I think it’s a good way for us to experiment to see if we can make some places look better.”

Councilman Drew Storey applauds Nicholson for looking outside of the box to find new ways to make Seymour a better place to live.

“The mayor has spent a lot of time identifying best practices and morphing those into something that has the right pieces for Seymour,” Storey said. “I’m encouraged by the mayor’s commitment to allowing city government to be an active partner in the development of aesthetically pleasing personal property projects.

“I also appreciate the mayor’s vision of organically building neighborly partnerships through this program, as well,” he added. “This program certainly aligns with this council’s plans to make an impact, so I suspect there will be as much support for this as the mayor needs from us.”

The city also is taking a different approach to abandoned and nuisance properties by connecting owners with potential buyers interested in tearing down and building new homes or renovating them to rent or sell.

“Our planning and zoning department has a list of seven to 10 builders and/or developers looking for these kinds of projects,” Nicholson said.

By taking this route instead of going through the courts, the city saves time and money in improving properties.

Last year, nine buildings were torn down and seven were replaced, Nicholson said.

“We’ll continue to work on those run-down properties,” he said. “We’ve already had three taken down this year and one or two more that are committed, so we’re making progress. Is it quick? No, but we’re getting there. It’s getting better.”

Nicholson said after conducting a communitywide survey, the public determined the No. 1 issue Seymour faces is a lack of quality housing and housing options.

One project currently under construction to address the problem is Crossroads Village, an affordable senior living apartment complex located on Poplar Street behind Schneck Medical Center.

“Right now, we’re waiting to hear if another firm has got some workforce housing we hope gets approved before the end of the month,” Nicholson said.

Another positive for Seymour is that for the second year in a row, new home builds within city limits topped those built in the 2-mile fringe outside of the city, Nicholson said.

“Last year was the first time that had happened in almost a decade,” he said.

There were 31 new home starts in the city in 2020, which was up by four homes from 2019.

“We’re trying to work on housing and get that piece of the puzzle solved,” Nicholson said.
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