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Three properties each in both the residential and business categories highlight the issues the Roanoke Rapids Planning and Development Department sees in what its director David Wise described as red properties throughout the city.

Wise gave the city council a report of building conditions in the city’s historic district during its work session Tuesday, a survey which was done at the request of Councilman Carl Ferebee.

The three residential structures highlighted in the report include 611 Washington Street, 96 Madison Street and 653 Washington Street.

The commercial properties include 204 Roanoke Avenue, the site of the former People’s Theater, 216 Roanoke Avenue, which Wise described in many ways is an extension of the theater property, and 258 Roanoke Avenue, which was damaged in a recent fire.

The People’s Theater property has been under a demolition order since 2012, Wise said. “The damage in the theater has spread like a contagion among buildings in the general area. Loose brick work is apparent on the facade.”

Code enforcement officer Roger Bell told the council the owner of the People’s Theater property died last year. “His heirs are trying to sell the property. There’s a large tax burden they’re trying to work through.”

Demolition of the People’s Theater alone could cost close to $1 million, City Manager Kelly Traynham said. “City council has taken all the action it possibly said.”

“Those are conservative estimates,” Bell said. “We really don’t know, considering asbestos removal is a cost you can’t foresee.”

In the gallery: Slides from the department's presentation

He said there are plans for 258 Roanoke Avenue, the site of the former Fitts-Crumpler building, to be demolished.”

“We have recently received calls to some of our vacant homes, most recently where we have individuals that are partaking in drug activity,” Roanoke Rapids police Chief Bobby Martin said. “They tend to squat in these homes. They’ll go in and break in. We have drugs stored in these vacant homes. We have weapons stored.”

The periodic calls, he said, come from the 1000 block all the way down to the 100 block. “We do what we can to contact the homeowners of said property and try to get it secured and try to keep this from happening.”

Martin said the department also gets calls about abandoned buildings on the avenue. He said the calls have included juveniles on top of the buildings throwing bricks onto the sidewalk. “In fear of the condition the People’s Theater is in, we're obviously concerned about that.”

Martin said the department puts “a lot” of officer hours into calls concerning abandoned buildings and homes. “You just can’t clear it by yourself,” he said. “It takes time. It takes multiple officers for safety issues, especially when we’re locating drugs, narcotics and people in these homes.”

As far as the residential structures, Wise said the property at 611 Washington Street sustained fire damage several years ago and the owner insisted he was planning to rehabilitate the home and had obtained a building permit.

Bell said the owner wanted this property to be his retirement home but took a fall down outdoor stairs and is now “faced with hospital bills he wasn’t anticipating so now he’s not sure if he’ll be able to go through with plans or not.”

The residential structure at 96 Madison Street was also brought to the department’s attention through a fire call, Wise said, although the structure itself was not damaged. “The owner has since disappeared and the formal process began on the structure just before COVID. The required ad in the paper did not run so the hearing was rescheduled and then pandemic restrictions happened.”

Wise said the department is now restarting the process.

The property is now boarded, Bell said.

The structure at 653 Washington Street is being analyzed for a possible controlled burn as the co-owner doesn’t believe the property can be rehabilitated.