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$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.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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.



The Durham Rescue mission is not fully funded via philanthrophy. They have received federal funds for their work and also run several businesses.

It's often difficult to untangle which businesses are owned for the profit of the mission and those that are run privately by the family.


I've known about DRM's plans (not in detail but the vision) for around three years now. I commend him on the vision that he is pursuing.

As far as the houses are concerned, I've been thinking about that for a while and asked myself "Why don't they move them to the single-family portion of the HOPE VI redevelopment?" It kills two birds with one stone. Of course, the third bird (Historic District Integrity) would still crow at this scenario. So the question becomes "Is maintaining the housing architecture important or the historical lay of the land?"

I really believe that DRM expansion can have a strong physical as well as social impact on this part of NECD/ Golden Belt. It will become part of the future of an area that hopefully can be remembered as part of the NEW history of NECD.

Michael Bacon

Most preservation advocates I know largely prefer that historic housing stay put, but far, far preserve a move-and-restore to a teardown. Relocating the housing would go a long way towards DRM being a bit more friendly in the area.

(Not closing Morning Glory to create a fenced compound would be another good step.)

John Martin

@Khalid: I suggest you read Gary Kueber's analysis at before you talk about this. The HOPE VI plan for Northeast Central Durham called for establishing greater connectivity and eliminating what it called "oversize blocks." This goes in exactly the opposite direction. That's bad urban design. As to moving houses, have you ever moved one? I have, and it is an expensive and difficult proceeding. In this circumstance, it is unnecessary. The Rescue Mission can achieve its housing aims without tearing down any houses. The Golden Belt Neighborhood Association is ready to engage in a serious conversation with the Rescue Mission about how to achieve their goals while still preserving our neighborhood. Their corporate sponsors also need to understand that this is NOT a non-controversial project AS IT NOW STANDS. Before more corporations commit to funding this, they ought to urge the Rescue Mission to seek a resolution that works for everyone.


DRM has also bought 3 houses on Avondale Drive near the I-85 facility in the past few years. Haven't done anything with them that i can tell. At least two of them are, and have been, vacant for some time.

It would be great if this gift allows Ernie Mills to fix the houses up and use them to help stabilize that block.

Seeing Craigie Sanders' name as Ernie's attorney, though, doesn't give me the best feeling. Sanders has been on the wrong side of too many issues, if you ask me.


$800,000 would go a long way in fixing up 23 boarded up houses to create permanent rental, transitional, or owner occupied housing in that neighborhood.

Especailly considering he already owns them all...

If you think that he could fix them up, train people to do the work, and then sell them at market rates, he could easily raise the additional funds to build his larger compound. A win for the neighborhood, a win for the mission.


@John M. - Great write-up by Gary. I haven't been to his site in a long time but always enjoy the historical background that he provides on different parts of Durham.

I only mentioned the housing issue because I have always been on the fence as far as the compound issue from day one. And I asked the DRM's representative a couple years back about their current fence and the closing of the roads (particularly Morning Glory). I didn't like the answers or the answers regarding the houses either.

I'm familiar with the process for moving houses. These would be a little more straight forward since no power lines will need to moved or raised to go around the corner. Also a developer such as Builders of Hope (not sure of exact name) should not have a problem since they have moved and renovated houses before.

As far as the roads are concerned, I can see closing Worth (if necessary). I don't think Morning Glory should be closed though. This would create blocks that fall in line with the Hope VI blocks that you mentioned above. I hope a committed element is to remove all fencing or at least have attractive fencing.

Quick question...Why do they need all of that parking??? Jeez!

John Martin

@Khalid: "Quick question...Why do they need all of that parking??? Jeez!"

An excellent question, and before it gets obscured by everything else, let me make this point: the Rescue Mission owns twenty lots in the historic district east of Alston Ave. Nine of those have historic houses on them. They propose to tear them down and build only 27 new units within the boundaries of the Golden Belt National Register Historic District. (Most of their development, in terms of buildings, is OUTSIDE the boundaries of the historic district, including most of their proposed residential units. Most of what they propose to put on the carcass of the historic district is asphalt.) If they simply built some historically appropriate duplexes on some of those vacant lots, and restored existing houses, they could have 27 units on the same amount of property. Why can't they do that? Why do they have tear down what's there and close two streets? To build an immense parking lot. To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, "tear down an historic district, put up a parking lot."


Posted by: DurhamTBTE

As a supporter for the Mission for many years. I am confused on your statement of receiving Federal Funding. What source of funding has come through any Government? My research shows $0 but you must have better connections than I. What source do you have that proves this if you do not mind?

Having vast experience in this same grant, the funding received can only be used for the project in which it was requested and must meet strict guidelines for 15 years. This money can only be used for housing and at no other location but the planned expansion.

Myers Sugg

When will K&L Gates develop a conscious and recognize that their legal might could be used for much better things in Durham, while still maintaining a workable business model? A narrow view of what is good for Durham, based on whomever is willing to hire them, doesn't demonstrate good conscious. Durham seems to sometimes take one step forward and two steps backward. There are many definitions of "doing good" for a community. Doing good by providing support services to those who are experiencing personal challenges is certainly one of them. Investing in stronger neighborhoods and preserving architectural integrity is indeed another way to "do good." I encourage DRM to find a way to work with locals to balance their interests with those of a neighborhood. We were able to do that in Lakewood with TROSA several years back through negotiations. Getting a big law firm name involved does nothing but harden the spirits of everyone involved. Find a City planner to work with, contact Sean Stucker with Preservation Durham, or Cathleen Turner with Preservation NC. These folks can be great resources to find solutions that are win/win for Durham.


I agree completely Myers. There is plenty of ground to create a development or project that is benficial to the developer and the community. I will go one step further and say that swaying the balance in one direction too much reduces the positive impact of the development.

Mr. Mills says that he wants to have an impact beyond the walls of the it. I don't see people meeting him halfway with lawyers at the table. I haven't been to a charrette in a while...


I'm most concerned that the Rescue Mission is proposing to close off several streets to build a fenced compound. From the plans I have seen, and the request that has already gone to the Planning Dept. it's REALLY bad urban design.

I'd say the same thing if they were proposing to build an Intercontinental. Closing off streets and building fences around an area in the middle of a neihgborhood is not healthy in East Durham nor any other neighborhood in Durham.


Mr. Mills has insisted on calling his project a "campus." However, campus implies that people can come and go, visit regularly, that traffic flows through. Colleges and universities are the most obvious "campuses," with classrooms, sporting and entertainment venues, museums, libraries.

However, we need to call this what it is: a compound. Closed off. Fenced off. Locked up. Traffic blocked.

East Durham does not need a compound, especially at such an important intersection.

Please, Mr. Mills, work with the neighborhood and develop a true campus. And fire your slick law firm; they're an albatross around the neck of your plans.

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