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Downtown Ratio study still stalled

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Monday, September 30, 2019

Questions about the status of a past study of the heart of Rocky Mount came up at a recent Central City Revitalization Panel meeting — and the panel received an official explanation.

Panelist Jesse Gerstl wanted to know whether the municipal government’s business development arm has taken on the city’s implementation strategies plan for the downtown northeast quadrant.

Gerstl also wanted to know whether there has been any movement on that plan or any other plans.

“No, we haven’t taken it on, no,” city Business Development Manager Kevin Harris said at the meeting, which was held Sept. 19.

Gerstl was referring to a 140-page draft document dated August 2017. The text was prepared by the Ratio architectural, planning and design firm, the VHB engineering consulting and design firm and Joyner Media & Strategies.

The draft document, more locally known as the Ratio study, provides a long list of recommendations and ways to improve Rocky Mount’s once-proud central business district.

The municipal government apparently has never formally approved the Ratio study.

Panelist Chris Miller, a city councilwoman who represents a pro-downtown organization on the Central City Revitalization Panel, told Harris of the Ratio study, “Well, there must be parts of that that would be acceptable, even if there are parts of it that would be considered objectionable.”

Harris said he knows the municipal government’s development services department is using components of the Ratio study.

Assistant City Manager Natasha Hampton said the municipal government came up against some challenges with the Ratio study because there was not public input.

“And this council has charged staff with making sure that whatever studies are being done, that it’s done with public input, sufficient public input,” Hampton said. “And so we’ve come back to do that part of it.”

Hampton said once that is complete, the details are going to be shared with the Central City Revitalization Panel.

Panelist Jean Almand Kitchin recalled she and others many times went to major presentations in connection with the Ratio study.

And panel Chairman Garland Jones recalled, “It was quite an amount of public input.”

Hampton said, “When Ratio actually was almost complete with that study, we had a large group of folks come back and say the way that that was presented, that they didn’t feel that they had a voice in participating in that.”

Hampton said although posters and stickers had been put up in advance, the community still did not feel they had a voice.

“So we wanted to make sure that we satisfied that before that information was completed or the study was completed,” Hampton said.

“So are there plans for public information sessions?” Gerstl asked.

Hampton cited the gathering the evening of Sept. 17 at the Booker T. Theater to show the public specifics of a proposed master plan to improve the Atlantic Avenue-Arlington Street corridor.

“It was a part of that entire Ratio study,” Hampton said.

Kitchin, still referring to sessions in connection with the Ratio study, said, “We all attended or most of us attended — and there were people standing there saying, ‘Do you have any questions? Is there anything we can share with you?’”

Kitchin recalled session officials “were prodding people to give input, very openly — and for big blocks of time.”

Hampton specifically said the Atlantic-Arlington corridor area residents did not feel they had an opportunity to provide input for the Ratio study.

Miller said given things are advertised, one cannot make people come out and participate.

Panelist Roslyn Haynes said a major problem she sees is that, “Things are available to the public, but the public doesn’t show up and then the public complains.

“So what do you do about that?” Haynes asked. “You can’t hold up everything because people don’t come out and actively participate.”

Hampton said, “But we have to make sure that whomever is conducting the study, that that platform and that forum provides for and lends for public input.”

Hampton, who was hired by the city in May 2018, said of the Ratio study, “I wasn’t there, but I do know that we got that information back.

“And when we did, we wanted to open it back up to get whatever community input that we could get — and we’ve done that,” Hampton said. “And so we will now aim to wrap up this study.”

Hampton said development services is going to blend in the new information, based on the proposed Atlantic-Arlington plan, and the past information, based on the Ratio study.

To view the Ratio study, go online and search using the words “Ratio,” “Rocky Mount” and “Downtown Northeast Quadrant.”

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