Rosa Wilkins lives just outside Zebulon these days, but she still owns her family homeplace on Barbee Street Extension. On Tuesday, she stood before town commissioners asking them for help to improve the area, which she says is pockmarked by eyesores.
“My heart just breaks when I think about this,” Wilkins told commissioners Tuesday night. “I would like the town to take a look at it and see if there isn’t something that can be done to make that area look better. It wasn’t always that way.”
Wilkins shared photographs of some lots that contain construction debris and run down buildings, a gaggle of electric lines running from the substation on Barbee Street Extension right in front of a group home and piles of dirt and stone at an N.C. Department of Transportation storage site.
She also gave commissioners a petition, signed by 71 residents from the Barbee Street neighborhood who would like to see the area improved as well.
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In an interview on Wednesday morning, Wilkins said the responsibility for improving the area shouldn’t rest entirely with the town. She said individual property owners ought to make some efforts to keep their own property clean and tidy.
Still, she says, that may not be enough. She cites the case of Catherine Allen, who lives across Barbee Street Extension from the DOT storage site. The DOT site is well maintained, but the view Allen has outside her front door is of a large pile of dirt used by maintainenance workers who repair streets and roads. Allen says she’s never had any trouble with the state, but Wilkins says that’s not the kind of view Allen or others ought to have to see.
The DOT site has no screening to shield the view of neighbors or passersby. Wilkins said conversations with DOT officials haven’t produced any results either. “They said they don’t have $40,000 to put up a fence around the property,” Wilkins said.
Jason Dunigan, the assistant county maintenance engineer for eastern Wake County says the state wants to put its money into roadway construction and maintainence, not erecting screening at storage sites. He said his office had received an estimate for building a fence around the property. He couldn’t cite precise figures, but he said the cost was prohibitive.
Zebulon Planning Director Mark Hetrick says the town doesn’t have a lot of options in responding to Wilkins’ concerns. “We’d like every part of Zebulon to look beautiful,” Hetrick said. “But we can’t arbitrarily go to private property owners and require them to make those kinds of improvements.” He said it was possible that the town and DOT could work together informally to address Wilkins’ concerns, but he said the town has never contacted DOT to ask for improvements to be made on the property. Dunigan confirmed that statement Wednesday.
“I’ve never heard from the town at all and my boss says he’s never heard from them either,” Dunigan said.
But the DOT property is just one of several Wilkins cited in her petition to commissioners. Others include the tract at the corner of Wakefield Street and Barbee Street Extension, which was the former site of a cotton gin. The one-acre parcel is overgrown in weeds except for one portion that is covered in a cement slab where the cotton gin formerly stood. Town officials had to take that property owner to court to get him to remove the building from the property after it became dilapidated.
Town manager Joe Moore said it’s unclear what options the town has, but he wants Wilkins and others who signed the petition to know the town will do it’s due diligence in looking into the matter.
“You have to be expansive in your thinking. But you also have to be legal and ethical and transparent,” Moore said. “Hopefully, it’s clear to (Wilkins) that we are going to look for solutions where we can.”