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City scraps parking for housing

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Monday, April 22, 2019

Last summer in preparation for the opening of the Rocky Mount Event Center, the city made improvements to parking lots owned by Edgecombe Community College as voted on by the City Council.

The city and college were to share adjoining parking lots on Tarboro Street, but the city has since approved a state-funded housing project at the site with Councilman Reuben Blackwell saying he doesn't remember talks or votes concerning the agreement with the college.

ECC only agreed to buy land on Tarboro Street next to city property because the city said the sites would be used to share parking, Gloria Wiggins-Hicks, a member of the ECC Board of Trustees, said at a recent workshop on the planned Tarboro Street housing project.

In that workshop, Councilman Andre Knight's answer was nothing is set in stone.

A few weeks later, during an April 8 City Council meeting, Blackwell said he was unaware of any recent conversations or votes on the matter. However, emails obtained by the Telegram via a public records request show Blackwell asked about housing and parking in an Oct. 4 email after receiving the agenda package for an upcoming meeting.

When City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney explained her plan to go along with the parking agreement until funding for housing was secure then terminate the proposed agreement with the college, Blackwell's three-word response was: "EXCELLENT! THANK YOU!"

The agreement was tabled by Small-Toney because it lacked a clause that would have allowed the city to back out of the deal. But just a few months earlier, the City Council approved a plan that included repairing the college's property on Tarboro Street so it could be used for Event Center parking.

Blackwell both engaged in discussion and voted on the plan.

During the Aug. 27 discussion, Blackwell voiced concern for communicating to people residing in the neighborhoods that may be affected by parking. When it came time to vote on the plan, Blackwell seconded the motion and joined in unanimous approval that staff be authorized to move forward as outlined with the Event Center Parking and Traffic Control Plan as outlined in the presentation, according to the Aug. 27 meeting minutes.

City Engineer Brad Kerr in an Oct. 9 email response to Small-Toney pointed out that the city improved parking lots on Tarboror Street owned by the college as approved by the City Council.

"As noted to council during the presentation, the city had pricing for the improvements and in order to make the Oct. 25 opening would need to start work as soon as possible," Kerr said. "It was also noted that the city was prepared to move forward as soon as it had authorization from ECC to make the improvements on their parcels. An initial draft agreement was prepared by Jep (Rose, the city's attorney) in June with the concept that it may be used as a model for future revenue sharing agreements with private property owners interested in RMEC parking."

Kerr said based on the decision, there would be no charge for off-site Event Center parking and a draft of the agreement deleting a revenue sharing clause was sent to ECC for review on Aug. 30 along with driveway permit applications and a map of proposed improvements.

College officials provided a revised draft based on the guidance they received from their board and a final version was negotiated between ECC and the city based on the understanding that this agreement was addressing only current parking needs for the Event Center and the college with future amendments made as conditions evolved, Kerr said.

"I stand by my position, my vote and my constituents on that location as the best site for this affordable, workforce housing development to help build the momentum of a beautiful, vibrant, diverse and economically beneficial downtown Rocky Mount that everyone can enjoy," Blackwell said late last week in answer to Telegram questions on the matter.

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