Housing site faces environmental concerns


Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Tarboro Street site chosen for workforce housing is a state environmental brownfield site not safe for well water as revealed Tuesday at a public meeting on the matter.

Local business owner Lige Daughtridge, candidate for the City Council Ward 5 seat, asked the officials conducting the meeting about how safe the location was given that it used to be the site of a dry cleaners and had been investigated by state environmental officials.

The site has been reviewed and determined to be OK, but wells wouldn't be allowed, said Sarah Odio, project manager for the Development Finance Initiative at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government, which facilitated the session.

Wells would not be part of the development of the site, but environmentalists often question the safety of such a former industrial site in connection to housing.

Daughtridge asked why a competing site, Crossing at 64, wasn't chosen.

Odio said that site isn't within two miles of a grocery store and pharmacy and had didn't have adequate infrastructure.

Crossing at 64 has infrastructure, said Rocky Mount Edgecombe Community Developement Corp. President Joyce Dickens. She wanted the housing to be placed at Crossing on 64, but city officials and DFI chose the Tarboro Street site. Dickens has a good chance of developing the Tarboro Street site due to her experience with tax credits and federal funding.

Daughtridge said a grocery store could be built on the roughly 85 acres at Crossing on 64. He also questioned the transparency of holding a community meeting after the City Council has already voted for in favor of the project.

Beside the environmental revelation, two other reasons not to build on the Tarboro Street site were given.

First, Edgecombe Community College agreed to buy adjoining property because the city said the site would remain parking, said Gloria Wiggins-Hicks, a member of the ECC Board of Trustees.

City Councilman Andre Knight said the site might have been meant to be parking at one time but plans changed.

The site was planned to be 80 units, but was scaled back because ECC wanted parking on the spot, not housing, according to city emails obtained by the Telegram via public records requests.

Second, private investors who have sunk millions of dollars into downtown expected the location to be parking for planned restaurants.

Jesse Gerstl, who owns nearby buildings, said downtown growth would be stifled without adequate parking.

"I support housing downtown," Gerstl said. "But Rocky Mount has a parking problem and you're taking away parking."

Local blogger Stephanie Houghton said she would rather see existing structures be remodeled. She also said the project should be paused while investigations of malfeasance at City Hall are complete.

"We have no confidence in city government right now," Houghton said.

Resident Kim Koo said Houghton doesn't speak for everyone. Koo said she has confidence in the city.

Several members of the community spoke up in support of the project, saying affordable housing is needed in Rocky Mount.

The City Council has committed to convey property between 218-242 Tarboro Street via sale or lease to a development partner.

The project entails 60 units, a mix of studio and 1- and 2- bedrooms, for households earning 60 percent of area medium income.

North Carolina’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency has committed to providing gap financing for the development of the rental units. The development will serve the city’s workforce with priority given to households displaced by Hurricane Matthew, according to information provided by the city.

The public meeting was held in McBryde Auditorium on the Rocky Mount campus of ECC, with the Tarboro Street site visible out the room's window.