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Council advances several projects

The Washington City Council approved the next step in a pair of projects and directed city staff to look into a third during Monday’s meeting, held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Council unanimously supported the Raleigh-based Beacon Street Development firm’s request to rezone their newly purchased property at the corner of Water and MacNair streets from Industrial to Business Historical so the second phase of the Moss Landing development can proceed.

The plan calls for 49 single family homes and one commercial space on the 6.75-acre property that the Builders FirstSource lumber yard currently occupies.

“We are expecting it to look similar to the current Moss Landing neighborhood that they’ve been building out for the last few years,” City Manager Jonathan Russell said. “Rezoning is the first step. They need to submit a site plan next. We will probably have a discussion about access points for public views of the river, maybe extending the boardwalk, but it’s too early in the process to decide that now.”

Russell said the lone commercial space will be similar to the Cups and Cones ice cream shop on Water Street.

“They are talking about some kind of gathering space like a sandwich shop,” he said. “We think this phase will blend well with the current Moss Landing and be really nice when it’s done.”

Local Realtor Scott Campbell made a presentation that encouraged the Council to enforce the Prevention of Demolition by Neglect ordinance in the historic district.

Campbell is a member of a Historic Preservation Commission subcommittee that studied the number of historic homes that need to be repaired or renovated. The group’s research found that 61 of the 540 historic properties need attention. Thirty-six of the 61 are vacant or owned by landlords.

“We made our observations from the street without going on anybody’s property, so the results aren’t scientific, but they are pretty close.” Campbell said. “We want to make the council aware of the situation so, hopefully, they add some teeth to the current ordinance to encourage owners to maintain their property. The city just made a $3.5-million investment downtown, and the historic district should reflect that.”

Council instructed the city staff to take a closer look and report back at a future meeting.

Council also approved a $75,000 contract with Stantec, a Canadian engineering firm, to begin to explore ways to improve the 15th-Street corridor between Carolina Avenue and Brown Street. The vote was 4-1, with Councilman William Pitt voting against.

The city took bids from several companies before COVID-19 started, and Russell said Stantec was the most qualified.

“Stantec has done similar projects in bigger cities and smaller towns all over the country, and they’ve already done some analysis and development on this project,” Russell explained. “There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle, and we think they are the ones to make them fit together.”

The North Carolina Department of Transportation maintains the road and will help provide the funding, according to Russell. Previous councils have started the process, but couldn’t agree on a way forward, thus pushing the project farther down on NCDOT’s priority list.

“We will stay on their radar by getting into the next phase,” Russell said. “We know 15th Street has its issues, and we want to come with a plan that makes it safer and more pedestrian- and driver-friendly. It’s a long process, but this is a good start. We’re planning on taking public input during the first quarter of 2021 and go from there.”

The next scheduled meeting of the Washington City Council is Dec. 14 at 5:30 p.m.