$800k gift moves Durham Rescue Mission closer to expansion -- and to possible conflict with some neighbors
Update: Gary Kueber, referenced below in the article, has a very long post on the matter at Endangered Durham today, speaking from his ED blogger perspective, not the Scientific Properties one. Besides the details below, Gary notes that neighbors have filed a protest petition over the proposed land use changes required for DRM expansion.
The Triangle Business Journal and the Herald-Sun both have the news that the Durham Rescue Mission has received $800,000 from an Atlanta cooperative bank in a gift linked to one of that bank's members, Winston-Salem giant BB&T. (BB&T Durham city executive Earl Tye is quoted in the H-S coverage.)
DRM operates a facility at the corner of Main St. and Alston Ave., and a family shelter in a converted hotel off I-85 near Avondale Dr.
It's a big gift, the biggest in the DRM's history, per the H-S' John McCann. And it takes the charity, which serves the poor and homeless with shelter, meals and spiritual outreach, more than one-sixth of the way towards the mark it needs to build what McCann calls "a real nice-looking building in a North-East Central Durham community often associated with blight."
But the gift also accelerates a possible conflict that's been brewing in recent months over the expansion plans for the shelter, which have intersected with a neighborhood-led effort to upgrade the Golden Belt national historic district to a local historic district, something that's gained the requisite percentage of signatures but the opposition of Mills and the Rescue Mission.
Durham's Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously last week to support the creation of the district, which would carry with it some aesthetic impact on new and renovated structures and could delay demolition of existing properties, though it could not block such from happening.
According to John Martin, a Golden Belt area resident and local historic district petition supporter, the petition drive to get a local historic district in place for the Golden Belt area began before the depth of Mills' expansion plans were known.
"One of the major reasons for the petition is the fact that houses have continued to be demolished and disfigured since Golden Belt became a National Register District in 1985," Martin told BCR in an email.
The petition -- which had to incorporate at least a minimum threshold of properties in the district -- got a significant boost from Scientific Properties, which has acquired a number of properties in the residential district to the east of their Golden Belt mixed-use project in a converted industrial facility.
"We at Scientific Properties are fully in support of the neighborhood, which is a National Register district, becoming a local district as well," Scientific Properties COO Gary Kueber noted in an email, adding that the developer has worked hard to "preserve the historic integrity of the mill village" adjacent to their complex by renovating abandoned properties in an historically-appropriate way.
"The local district would certainly bolster our efforts, and we've signed for all parcels that we own," said Kueber, who outside his work at Scientific may be best known in town as the blogger behind the popular Endangered Durham web site.
Scientific signed for eleven properties in total, representing almost one-third of the thirty-five properties whose owners were signatories to the petition.
Twenty-three properties covered by the putative district are controlled by Rescue Mission Ministries, Inc. -- and Ernie Mills didn't sign on to the petition on behalf of a single one.
Instead Mills, represented by local land use attorney Craigie Sanders, reportedly opposed the historic district's proposed boundaries at the HPC meeting. As proposed, the district's boundaries would start near Golden Belt itself but would stretch east of Alston Ave. and incorporate parcels that the Durham Rescue Mission controls.
It's an unusual conflict, and one that's happening in a part of Durham being transformed in recent years. The proposed DRM expansion and the proposed local historic district are converging in a neighborhood in which Mills and the Rescue Mission were for many years seen as one of the only bright, positive forces in an economically struggling community. Into that world, though, have stepped a number of recent transformations:
- The Hope VI activities along Main St., adding attractive mixed-income housing to the east of the corridor;
- City-funded and Hope VI efforts to demolish the old Few Gardens just to the northeast of the Durham Rescue Mission and to redevelop the once-notorious Barnes Avenue into Eastway Village; the efforts have attracted a number of homeowners buying homes on Eastway, along with apartments developed by the Durham Housing Authority nearby;
- The renovation by Scientific Properties of the Golden Belt complex and adjacent homes; and,
- The organization of the Golden Belt Neighborhood Association and the Old East Durham community, both of which run close to opposite ends of the DRM borders.
But it's also a conflict that finds the Durham Rescue Mission in an odd position; the organization enjoys broad community support, positive media attention, and serves a significant number of Durham and Triangle residents on the backs solely of private donations.
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Mills' non-profit has started the process to petition for the closure of Morning Glory Ave. and Worth St. to the east of Alston Ave., according to Martin.
"I want to emphasize that we are not opposed to the work they are doing, and we are not opposed to an expansion of their present facilities," Martin said in an email sent to both the Old East Durham listserv and a reporter for the Independent Weekly. "However, we do oppose their current proposals," he added, arguing that the street closures and demolitions required for the proposed expansion "would create a compound" east of Alston, and lead to the teardown of nine houses controlled by DRM.
This local historic district proposal won HPC support last week despite the opposition of Mills, though the impact any such district once fully authorized would have on Mills' expansion plans aren't clear -- "it would have some effect on the design of the buildings they intend on building, but I don't know how much it would affect the scale/site plan," Kueber noted in an email.
And as we've learned in other parts of Durham, notably with the Healthy Start Academy's near-demolition of several houses they controlled on Jackson St. in a local historic district, such a district wouldn't outright ban teardown, though it could lead to a one-year waiting period for such structure removals.
Yesterday's gift for the DRM's expansion should certainly help the non-profit with its mission of expanding services to the disadvantaged in Durham. Yet with the gift and the Mission's expansion coming into an East Durham that's a very different-looking place than it was several years ago, it also means new challenges for both the non-profit and for neighbors co-existing in an area where such conflict and disagreement might have been unthinkable a few years ago.