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Study presents challenges, opportunities for Atlantic Street area

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Rocky Mount Planning Administrator JoSeth Bocook outlines a draft document to provide guidance for developing the Atlantic Avenue-Arlington Street corridor at a City Council work session on Aug. 26.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Monday, September 9, 2019

A municipal government land use study of the Atlantic Avenue-Arlington Street corridor is nearly 40 pages of information full of details about boosting the area.

A more thorough look at the draft document of the study area outlines both the negatives and the positives of the corridor.

The study area extends along and close to Atlantic from U.S. 64 to Tarboro Street and along and close to Arlington from Tarboro to East Raleigh Boulevard.

The study area is comprised of 425 parcels with an approximate area of 150 acres, not including the public right-of-way. Most of the study area is in the eastern half of downtown, also referred to as the Central City Area, and includes portions of the Down East, Holly Street and Southeast Rocky Mount neighborhoods.

The Atlantic-Arlington corridor today is home to a concentration of minority and low-to-moderate-income residents and many minority- and women-owned businesses.

The draft document noted the study area is contrasted by long-standing anchor institutions and businesses, with highly visible stretches of properties suffering from a withdrawal of or a reduction in investment.

Specifically, the draft document pointed out the study area is almost entirely located within a federal opportunity zone.

Such zones are economically distressed communities where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment.

To be called an opportunity zone, at least half the households must have an income of less than 60 percent of the $37,607 area median gross income.

The study noted Rocky Mount’s own documentation shows within the city, 37.5 percent of the households are cost burdened — and noted residents pay more than 30 percent of their gross monthly income in rent.

A review of the draft document shows even more downsides to the Atlantic-Arlington corridor.

The draft document said most of the study area is comprised of single-family detached dwellings but said almost all of them were constructed more than 50 years ago. And the draft document said such a situation lends to an old and vulnerable housing stock in many cases.

The draft document’s overview of the scene pointed out multi-family dwellings are scattered in small numbers throughout the corridor, which is surprising given the study area’s proximity to the heart of downtown.

As far as the most prominent multifamily developments in the study area, the draft document said they are small-scale buildings serving senior citizens.

The positive, the draft document said, is there are opportunities for infill development of new dwellings throughout the corridor, given the demolition of many structures in the past.

A 2015 study of housing in Rocky Mount shows there are 74 residential neighborhoods in the city.

However, that study showed 14 of the 74 are identified as Targeted Areas of Opportunity, meaning they have tremendous needs.

The Atlantic-Arlington draft document said all 14 Targeted Areas of Opportunity are located central to the city’s geography and around downtown.

The draft document pointed out three of the 14 Targeted Areas of Opportunity — Central City, Down East and Holly Street — are within the Atlantic-Arlington corridor.

Within the study area, there are 327 housing units in 196 residential structures and many of these are vacant and a majority of these are single-family detached dwellings.

Also, the draft document showed:

There are approximately 30 multi-family buildings in the Atlantic-Arlington corridor, with approximately 22 buildings of four units or less and approximately eight buildings having five to 50 units.

There are 77 lots currently vacant or undeveloped, with a residential zoning designation within the study area.

There has been an increase in transactions in the corridor and other Targeted Areas of Opportunity from real estate investors.

Of the 425 properties in the study area, 145 of them are owned by entities outside of Rocky Mount.

Of the residential units, only an estimated 35 percent are owner-occupied.

Given the low level of ownership, the draft document said residents of rental properties are potentially subject to anticipated shifts in the demand for housing in the Central City Area.

The draft document made clear the municipal government has prioritized making resources available for rehabilitating housing and partnerships with for-profit and nonprofit developers to create new infill development.

Not all is negative, as the draft document extensively pointed out Rocky Mount having a wealth of heritage.

The draft document noted the Atlantic-Arlington thoroughfare and the surrounding area are rich with landmarks related to music, sports and the civil rights movement, all wwof which create a trail of African-American cultural significance unique to the city.

Among the facts the draft document pointed out:

The Henry and Willie Mitchell House, at 402 Albemarle Ave., housed entertainers such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Baise, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday when they were in the city for the annual “June German” dances. The dances were hosted in tobacco warehouses.

The Walter “Buck” Leonard House, at 605 Atlantic, was home to the Hall of Fame baseball player.

The former Booker T. Washington High School was the site of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s November 1962 speech. That speech was the forerunner of King’s “I Have a Dream” August 1963 speech in Washington, D.C.

A state historic marker honoring King’s speech in Rocky Mount is in place nearby alongside Atlantic.

And on Saturday, another statewide historic marker was unveiled alongside Atlantic, this one in honor of the 1978 Rocky Mount sanitation workers strike.

The strike became a catalyst for the voting rights lawsuit a group of African-Americans filed in 1983. The legal action eventually led to a fairer and racially balanced ward system for African-Americans to win elections to positions on the City Council.

The force behind the process for the study was the construction of the Rocky Mount Event Center, located just west of Atlantic, and the anticipated development pressure in the vicinity of the facility.

And David Hunt, who is a Tennessee-based developer, wants to build a hotel, parking garage and residential and retail complex adjacent to the center.

The eventual goal is for the draft document to be brought before the local planning board and the City Council for public hearings and approval by those respective panels.

To view the draft document online, go to https://www.rockymountnc.gov/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=15905036

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