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Council to revoke demolition ban

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Rocky Mount City Council is scheduled to vote to revoke a more than year-long moratorium on demolishing ramshackle former residences.

The vote also includes the council adopting ordinances giving the municipal community code inspector the power to have crews knock down eight structures.

The council is set to meet at 4 p.m. on Monday.

And the following structures at the following locations are on the demolition list:

■ 1303 Cypress St.

■ 332 N. Howell St.

■ 4420 Jacobs Ave.

■ 416 Middle St.

■ 523 Nashville Road

■ 319 Marigold St.

■ 810 Mitchell St.

■ 1209 Tarboro St.

The structure along Marigold Street is dilapidated, while the other seven structures were damaged by fire.

The subject of the proposed demolition list was discussed at the council’s work session on Aug. 26.

During that session, City Development Services Director Will Deaton told the council he and his team would like the council to lift the moratorium and let him and his team proceed with demolishing the eight former residences.

Additionally, Deaton told the council he and his team want to get a bit quicker action in the future by directly submitting the council lists of former residences essentially beyond repair, without having to come to work sessions first.

Municipal documents state the criteria for demolition would be as follows:

At least 50 percent of the structure was destroyed by a fire or another casualty.

The structure cannot be brought into line with the minimum standards of the municipal code at a cost of less than 75 percent of the structure’s value.

For at least a year, there has not been a record of electrical services and there has not been a potable water supply at the structure.

Or for at least a year, similar conditions have existed that indicate the structure has not been lawfully occupied.

During the Aug. 26 work session, Councilman Reuben Blackwell told Deaton, “All we asked for was clarity in how you make a decision about what gets demolished.

“And if we all had the same place or basis of evaluation, then that takes it out of the realm of people saying, ‘Well, why are you doing this to me? And I can fix the property.’“And if we’re clear on what those standards are, then the staff would be absolutely free to do whatever they need to do,” Blackwell said.

Councilwoman Chris Miller said she and fellow members have been in office long enough to recall cases, specifically downtown, in which residential property owners appealed to the council by saying, “I just don’t have the money to do it. Give me some more time.”

Blackwell, with a smile and a laugh, said, “Some of ‘em got fixed. And that’s where, in my opinion, the problem came.”

Blackwell said there were fire-damaged properties well beyond any repair, but he said his question only was about properties that could be repaired.

Councilman Andre Knight said his only concern is since 2003 there was an aggressive agenda regarding demolition.

“And now in these older neighborhoods, you’re having almost blocks of vacant properties – and if we continue down that road, there’s just going to be almost nothing there,” Knight said.

Knight spoke of, in the future, looking back as a community and saying, “Wow, this used to be Happy Hill, Little Raleigh, South Rocky Mount.”

And he said he believes the next question is going to be about the council’s vision and whether to do infilling, land banking or larger housing developments. Land banking involves purchasing blocks of land, with the goal being to sell the land for profit when the land has been approved for development.

He expressed concern about losing historic communities, especially African-American communities, where properties have been in place for years.

He said the elimination of dilapidated houses is good but also bad because a neighborhood is not there anymore. He called for balance.

Deaton said he believes part of the process is going to involve looking at the municipal ordinance to see whether a property owner can rebuild or whether there could be some easy wins, such as having affordable housing and accessory dwelling units.

And Deaton said this could all be grouped together as one because “we certainly don’t want to demolish any homes, we really don’t,” because this becomes a city maintenance issue and becomes destroying residential blocks at a time.

He spoke about him and his team “pumping the brakes” a bit on repairable structures, but he said as for the fire-damaged structures “there’s nothing that you can do with a lot of those properties.”

The council in June 2018 voted to impose the ban on demolishing dilapidated former residential structures.

The text of Monday’s council agenda can be viewed online at https://www.rockymountnc.gov/government/mayor_city_council/agendas.

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