Petition targets downtown development


Staff Writer

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The most interesting item to be presented Monday at the Rocky Mount City Council meeting isn't on the agenda.

Downtown investor Ben Braddock is circulating an online petition in support of code enforcement and facade grants for downtown property owners. He said he plans to present the petition Monday to the City Council.

As of Friday, the petition had 100 signatures with a goal of 1,000. While the list isn't long, it's full of property owners, politicians and prominent local figures.

The petition carries the signatures of downtown blogger Stepheny Houghtlin, former state lawmaker Angela Bryant, mayoral candidates Bronson Williams and Sandy Roberson and attorney Matthew Sperati among many more.

Local investment manager James Tharin signed the petition. He posted he would like to know if a mechanism is in place to guarantee funds are being spent as intended and not pocketed.

"I would like to see existing city council members' properties (if any) excluded from the grant," Tharin said.

Downtown businessowner Tarrick Pittman, chairman of the Downtown Merchants Association, signed the petition. A story in Sunday's Telegram will highlight Pittman's political plans.

Twin County Hall of Famer Tom Betts signed the petition.

"This is the least we should do," Betts posted. A story in Monday's Telegram will pull back the curtain on Betts — fundraiser, powerbroker and kingmaker.

Lige Daughtridge, candidate for the Ward 5 seat on the City Council, signed the petition.

"This could be a useful tool to entice private investment in downtown," Daughtridge said, adding that the city should enforce existing commercial codes.

David Farris, president of the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce, also signed the petition. Farris attended Thursday's meeting of the Central City Revitalization Panel, where he skewered city staff over the lack of downtown development. Farris said he put his neck on the line and lost friends supporting the Event Center and now nothing is happening downtown.

The petition is addressed to City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney and the City Council.

"We believe that the proposed $5,000 non-matching Facade Grant could provide quick assistance to buildings in need of new windows, doors, fresh painting, roof repairs, etc. This could be extremely beneficial to not only the appearance of Downtown Rocky Mount, but the economic growth of the area," the petition reads in part.

The petition also makes a strong case for the enforcement of commercial codes. Beside the need for public safety, the petition points out that code enforcement:

■ Keeps property values higher while protecting areas from blight and neglect.

■ Maintains a clean community, establishing a positive image for business owners, residents and tourists.

■ Is one of the primary tools a city has in implementing a long-term vision.

Explaining the petition online, Braddock said in order to move properties forward, the combined approach of enforcement — which has been neglected for years — and incentives — $5,000 in this case — can motivate property owners to improve or divest buildings they have been unable or unwilling to maintain.

On the agenda for the meeting, the council is set to discuss a carryover from the last meeting and consider approval of design bids among other items.

The council will consider adopting an ordinance ordering Community Code inspectors to demolish a dilapidated dwelling at 708 Branch St.

Councilman Richard Joyner asked the council at the Feb. 25 meeting to defer action until Monday to give him time to speak with the property owner.

The house on Branch Street has been boarded up with no active utilities since 2003. The house is structurally compromised with a rotting floor and ceiling joists. Police reported eight incidents at the house between 2001 and 2017, which include a missing child, loitering, trespassing, unauthorized parking and property damage, according to city staff.

The council also is set to consider a resolution authorizing filing of an application for an installment financing contract for roof repairs at the Senior Center and Judicial Center, Fire Station improvements and a gas main project estimated at an approximate total of $2.8 million.

The council will consider items related to the relocation of a CSX mainline utility for water and sewer. An agreement with the state Department of Transportation calls for 100 percent reimbursement of expenses incurred during the project.

The council will vote on whether to award two architectural services contract bids to Oakley Collier.

The first contract is for design services for renovations to the driver support facilities for both fixed and rural route drivers at the Tar River Transit Transfer Station at a total cost of $42,765.

The second contract is for first- and second-floor renovations at City Hall. Phase I is space assessment and conceptual design including a high-level review of access control and security. Phase II includes construction documents, bidding services and contract administration for renovations at a total cost of $110,725.

The council is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. in the George W. Dudley City Council Chamber of the Frederick E. Turnage Municipal Building. The council generally holds a workshop at 5 p.m. prior to first regular monthly meeting.