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Wednesday, Apr 02 2014 06:00 AM

Public welcome at Old Towne workshops

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County-funded improvements may be in store for the Old Towne area. County officials will hold a visioning workshop on April 11 and 12 to compile ideas on revitalizing the area using funds from the Renewable Energy Neighborhood Enhancement Wind Business Investment Zone grant program, otherwise known as RENEWBIZ. Photo by Emily Brunett

First step in potential revitalization is April 11, 12

Old Towne Tehachapi business owners could be the next beneficiaries of the county's grant program, Renewable Energy Neighborhood Enhancement Wind Business Investment Zone, or RENEWBIZ.

The first step in the process involves a brainstorming of ideas for improvements. A visioning workshop will be held by county officials on April 11, 5 until 8:30 p.m., and April 12, 9 a.m. until noon, at Valley Oaks Charter School, 20705 South St.

Second District Supervisor Zack Scrivner said all community members are encouraged to attend.

"Those who attend will participate in various activities that will help define the 'vision' for Old Towne's future," the supervisor said in an email. "There will be breakout sessions, electronic voting and other ways to solicit input from participants."

Saturday's meeting will also include a walking tour, he said.

Scrivner spearheaded the creation of the RENEWBIZ program, which was approved by the county supervisors in December 2012. The grant program is funded by property tax collections in the unincorporated areas of Eastern Kern County since January 2012, capped at $1.5 million per year.

Wind and solar projects in the region have helped bump up the property tax.

"This is a 30-year program approved by the Board of Supervisors, and various projects will be delivered in all RENEWBIZ-eligible communities over the years," Scrivner said.

He said available funds depend on yearly property tax assessments and will be used with other county grants for infrastructure projects, as well as for exterior improvements for businesses and non-profits in those areas.

"Project areas are determined through the community visioning process," Scrivner said. "Local residents and stakeholders are integral to developing the vision."

Anticipating this attention from the county, about 30 business owners recently formed the Old Town Business Association, according to Marilyn White, who is the interim chair of the organization.

White said the group is very informal right now.

"We never realized until we started this project how many businesses are in Old Town," she said. "I think there are 60 just on Brian Way alone."

The association has held a few organizational meetings thus far.

"We are really looking at banding together to see if we can get a little more love from the county," White said.

Scrivner said the Board of Supervisors approved a $97,000 contract with consulting firm PMC on Feb. 25 to conduct the visioning. The firm has offices in seven California cities.

"PMC was utilized for the Rosamond, Mojave and Boron visioning projects, and they have been excellent," Scrivner said.

Revitalization efforts for the unincorporated areas of Eastern Kern began in 2011 with funding from other grants like the Transportation Enhancement Grant, Scrivner said.

Targeted elsewhere for revitalization so far are county lands in Rosamond, Boron and Mojave, with the Mojave project now in the planning phase and the Boron project wrapping up the visioning process.

The supervisor said in 2013, 39 grant applications were approved for exterior improvements for private businesses and non-profits, totaling about $275,000.

"I have been extremely pleased with the success of the program, which starts with the tremendous enthusiasm for RENEWBIZ we have seen from local residents," Scrivner said.

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