Historic preservation meeting provides positive experience


Patsy Pridgen


Life Columnist

Sunday, March 31, 2019

After leaving recent City Council meetings feeling confused, chastised, exasperated and discouraged, I decided I needed a positive Rocky Mount municipal experience. Thus, I attended the March meeting of Preservation Rocky Mount.

The speaker for the night was Sam Johnson, a member of another organization, the Rocky Mount’s Historic Preservation Commission. Two different groups — Preservation Rocky Mount and Historic Preservation Commission — with similar names.

Here’s the major distinction: the Historic Preservation Commission is a city-appointed group that reviews Certificate of Appropriateness proposals for architectural changes in Rocky Mount’s recognized historic districts. There are seven such districts in Rocky Mount: Central City, Edgemont, Falls Road, Lincoln Park, Rocky Mount Mills Village, Villa Place and West Haven. The HPC is all about preserving the historical character of homes and businesses in these areas. For instance, old windows should be replaced with something similar, not with whatever happens to be on sale at Lowe’s.

As stated on its website, Preservation Rocky Mount has a similar mission: “to retain the architectural heritage, neighborhood character, and historic landscapes of the Rocky Mount, North Carolina area through collaboration, education, advocacy and restoration.” Unlike the HPC, though, members of the group are not appointed by the city. It’s an organization anyone interested in historical preservation can join.

On the night I attended the Preservation Rocky Mount meeting, Sam Johnson spoke about renovations approved by the HPC. He showed before and after pictures of downtown buildings such as the one housing the office of Dr. Monique Brown. With its now restored second-story, historically-appropriate windows, this building’s facade is a Main Street asset.

I also learned that there are people residing downtown in renovated living quarters upstairs over commercial property. Someone had even received approval from the HPC to add a garage in the alley behind an upstairs dwelling. Wow, modern urban living in Rocky Mount. Johnson also shared pictures of needed renovations. A few doors down from Dr. Brown’s office, for example, a building’s front is marred by huge, dilapidated metal doors.

The meeting was held at Station Square, a downtown asset itself, and the rumble of a train rolling by provided the appropriate background sound track for Johnson’s presentation. I looked around the room at excited Rocky Mount citizens, some of whom live in restored properties while others, like me, only dream of such.

Before the evening ended, anecdotal stories of downtown were shared. One attendee noted that Rocky Mount has no skyscrapers like some other eastern North Carolina towns because there was a long-standing ordinance that no building could be taller than the five stories the Rocky Mount fire trucks could reach.

Someone else talked about the impressive clock that mysteriously disappeared from the Peoples Bank façade. Three city employees involved in downtown development — Will Deaton, Kevin Harris and Joseth Bocook — were there and spoke knowledgeably and encouragingly in response to questions about downtown restoration.

I left the Preservation Rocky Mount meeting feeling enlightened, inspired, pleased and proud. What a difference from the way I’ve felt after attending recent meetings of the Rocky Mount City Council.

Check out Patsy Pridgen’s blog at www.patsypridgen.com.