Durham Rescue Mission wants no part of Golden Belt's local historic designation

Golden Belt (dragged)


It cost just $265 to build a three-room house on Morning Glory Avenue; for an extra $4, the carpenter would toss in a privy. That was in 1900, when the 20-acre mill village, then known as Morning Glory, housed the workers who made cloth and thread at the nearby Golden Belt factory.

Download Golden Belt

More than 115 years later, the Golden Belt neighborhood is one of the last areas near downtown that is relatively affordable for the middle-class. And with its tight street grid and modest former mill houses, the neighborhood feels distinct — character that residents want to preserve through a local historic designation.

“It’s our hope that local designation will guide further development, small-scale in form and character in the future development,” Jennifer Martin Mitchell of MdM, the city’s consultants for the project, told the Historic Preservation Commission at a special meeting Wednesday morning.

The HPC recommended the designation and its boundaries at a meeting Wednesday morning, although with concerns about criteria that could guide future development.

While residents at the meeting overwhelmingly supported the designation, a major property owner in the neighborhood, the Durham Rescue Mission, wants to secede from the proposed historic district. The mission owns 13 properties in the neighborhood, including five historically contributing structures and several vacant lots in the 1200 block of Worth Street and Morning Glory Avenue.

 “We want to be sliced out somehow,” Rob Tart, the rescue mission’s chief operating officer, told the HPC. “We don’t want to be part of it. It’s onerous. It doesn’t help us accomplish our goals of serving homeless people. This will not help what we’re trying to do. We don’t think it’s profitable or helpful.”

However, what the rescue mission is trying to do is unclear. Tart acknowledged the nonprofit, which has been in the neighborhood since 1974, has no concrete vision for its properties, only to say it doesn’t include single-family homes. He also said he had not read the design criteria, only that he had been “briefed on it.”  

“But we have no desire to build what you want us to,” Tart told the HPC. “You’ll leave those lots empty. Nothing will happen on those properties, because we’re not going anywhere.”

Since the mission is a nonprofit, it does not pay property taxes. It has assets worth $23 million, according to its 2014 federal tax statements. The mission CEO, Ernie Mills, earns nearly $150,000 annually. Tart is paid $110,000 per year.  Download 2014_DurhamRescueMission

Vacant lots provide an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of a historic neighborhood, said Cynthia de Miranda of MdM. “They can help reestablish street patterns. They can enhance what has been lost.”

Lisa Miller, a senior planner and urban designer for the city, told Tart that multi-family housing could be built in the historic district, as long as it’s “not a big block of apartments of monolithic faces to the streets.” For example, after several design iterations, the Greystone apartment complex in historic Morehead Hill was ultimately approved by the HPC. 

“This isn’t hamstringing or forcing someone to build single-family homes,” Miller said. “There is a lot of leeway but you do have to hold on to basic elements of building placement and design.”

Without a local historic designation and its associated design criteria, the Golden Belt neighborhood could be very much in jeopardy. The widening of Alston Avenue — construction is scheduled to begin in August — threatens to divide the eastern and western portions of the neighborhood. 

“We see this local designation to give the neighborhood some leverage to be the walkable, integrated, inclusive community we want it to be,” said Mel Norton, who lives on Wall Street. As part of Durham Congregations and Neighborhoods, she has conducted extensive research on gentrification in the city. “I’m afraid we’ll see what’s happening in Cleveland-Holloway happening here” — teardowns replaced by “bigger non-descriptive homes that don’t relate to the neighborhood.”

And with the its proximity to downtown, former Golden Belt resident John Martin said, the neighborhood “is still very fragile. “If you don’t do this, you’ll start seeing gentrification in a bad way, people tearing down mill houses that can be protected and preserved.”

Construction and renovation projects by the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity and Scientific Properties, which purchased the old factories and several blighted homes, have kept prices modest, often under $150,000. But the asking price for a new house on Worth Street is $295,000.

“There are already high development pressures that will increase over time,” said Ben Filippo, executive director of Preservation Durham

Maintaining connectivity on the east and west sides of Alston Avenue is “essential” he added, and that tax breaks for preservation could help achieve that goal.

“If we can’t include those residences — the working class housing-stock that Durham was built on — if we don’t provide incentives to protect that,” Filippo said, “we are doing a major disservice to our residents.”

The issue will go to the planning commission in June, and ultimately to City Council.

Timeline of Golden Belt neighborhood

1900: Julian Carr begins construction of the cotton mill and bag factory, plus the first phase of the village 

1906-1930: Golden Belt expands to six factories, including hosiery and cigarette cartons

1910-1920: Mill village expands to accommodate additional workers.

1985:  The 39-acre Golden Belt Historic District listed on National Register of Historic Places

1996:  The district boundary increased to add a building at the southeast corner of East Main  and North Elm streets. The building has since been demolished but the parcel remains in the district. 

2008: Period of significance is extended from 1935 to 1958

2010:  Petition is circulated to also designate the National Historic District a local historic district.

2015:  Creation of local district initiated with public meetings and initial research by MdM   Historical Consultants

Affordable housing, body cameras, Duke union and more: Live blogging the City Council work session

1 p.m. Council member Jillian Johnson is bring up the resolution in support of non-tenure track faculty to bargain collectively.  She is citing facts about Duke, including average student tuition of $61,000 a year, and the students' dependence on non-tenure track faculty for their coursework. Cost of living in Durham is increasing, but these faculty have no job security or raises. City of Durham is stronger when citizens have secure jobs for the long-term. The decision to unionize is solely that of the workers and not to be interfered with. 

Mayor Bell is readjusting the agenda because he has to leave at 3:20. After the Duke unionization public comments, this will be the order. Don Moffitt is also adding a resolution regarding the Human Relations Commission.

19. Poverty reduction task force

18. Rental assistance, affordable housing

20. Underground utilities permits

4. Body cameras for Durham Police Department


Jim Haverkamp: He is a non-tenure track faculty member. We want a seat at the table. We work semester to semester, year to year. We don't have opportunity to meet with administration and discuss this. If you'd be willing to add a voice to ours, that would be appreciated.

A man whose name I did not get: I stand in strong support of non-tenure track faculty, they provide excellent education for students despite having no job security. Their security is our security. Their stability is our stability. It's an important benefit not only for the students but the Durham community.

Mayor Bell: I've long supported the rights of labor unions. Unions tend to come in where companies refuse to provide benefits to workers. Even though we are a right to work state. However, when I look at this resolution, it's been the position of the council, if there are any figures or items that may be questionable, we want them verified. There are numbers in here, while I don't contest them, I'd like to see the source of the numbers. There are some statements that aren't pertinent, such as Duke's exemption from $8.5 million in property taxes because they are nonprofits. The gist of what I see is that the resolution that mayor and City Council support Duke non-tenure track to unionize. I support that, just not the entire resolution. 

We have a letter from Phail Wynn (vice president of Durham and regional affairs): Duke will support their legal right to unionize, but it will provide information and communicate with employees. [This is in reference to union supporters' statement that Duke has provided misleading information about the effects of a union.]

Bell: I think it would be more appropriate to have a letter from Council to Duke president supporting the right to unionize, not a resolution.

Moffitt has a question for Jim Haverkamp: I heard you say "contingent faculty," is that the bargaining unit?

Haverkamp: Non-tenure track, adjunct, lecturers. Many of us work year to year or semester to semester.

Moffitt: The resolution supports the effort to organize, but another line says "endorses the right to organize." There's a difference. I strongly endorse the right to organize, but I believe that the decision belongs solely to the workers. I would like to add a friendly amendment saying "effort."

Bell: I don't expect us to vote on this today.

Cora Cole-McFadden: Concerned about the unionization pamphlet being handed out because there is a lack of sensitivity to all races, lack of diversity in the photos. I haven't had time to read it. I'm troubled by the lack of representation.

Johnson: There is supplemental information about diversity and gender pay gap.

Steve Schewel: I'm a non-tenure faculty at Duke. I'm a visiting assistant professor. I have signed the union card. I asked Patrick Baker, city attorney, if I should recuse myself.

Baker: There's a conflict of interest if this would improve your position or financial relationship. This resolution doesn't do this. You may ultimately benefit, but none of your decisions right now would directly influence this. 

Schewel: I think there are many non-tenure track faculty at Duke who don't have the situation I do, so I'm very supportive.

Eddie Davis: Supports the unionization effort and collective bargaining. I would like to see this resolution polished.

Charlie Reece: For my own part, I would vote to approve the resolution as it is today, but I appreciate concerns of council, and look forward to voting on a revised revolution that reflects those.

Bell speaking with Johnson: Work with administration and city attorney's office to word the resolution. It should come back to a work session.

Cole-McFadden: I do want to say that I support unions.

Continue reading "Affordable housing, body cameras, Duke union and more: Live blogging the City Council work session" »

Durham CAN's public subsidy tour: a beginner's guide to tax incentives, diversity and affordable housing downtown


Photo by Gary Kueber; courtesy OpenDurham.org


This post has been corrected to reflect that the option on Fayette Place expires in August 2017, not this year.

It is only 1.2 miles from downtown Durham to the old Fayette Place, the former housing project at the gateway to the historic Hayti neighborhood. Last Saturday morning, about 40 people took a three-minute bus ride to see what many view only from the highway.

“It looks like an archaeological dig,” a man said.

“This is the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” added a woman, who was trying to photograph the desolation with her smartphone.

But a camera cannot capture the blightscape of the 19 acres at Fayetteville and Umstead streets, near the Durham Freeway. Encased by a chain-link fence, the property is scarred with dozens of concrete slab foundations and crumbling brick steps that once went to front doors and now lead to nowhere.

From the highway, the land looks like it has been flattened by a bomb. From the street, it is a constant and embarrassing reminder of the neglect in this predominantly African-American neighborhood.

“If this were in any other neighborhood, there’s no way it would have been allowed to lay like this,” said the Rev. William Lucas, pastor of nearby First Chronicles Community Church. The group had disembarked the bus at Grant and Merrick streets, an eerily isolated block embedded between the abandoned property and the freeway. “This area can go from one to 100 in a second,” Lucas said of the crime in the neighborhood. “It’s real serious here.”

The occasion for the bus ride to this and other prime real estate in and near downtown was the Durham CAN public subsidy tour. About 200 people gathered to learn about the evolution of downtown development, its opportunities for affordable housing, and the market forces and the public subsidies and tax incentives that shape its future.

That future, everyone agreed, should include a downtown made vibrant by racial and economic diversity.

Continue reading "Durham CAN's public subsidy tour: a beginner's guide to tax incentives, diversity and affordable housing downtown" »

City could allocate more than a half-million dollars for 26 affordable homes

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 12.50.42 PMPhoto from Durham Habitat for Humanity website

The agenda for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting is thin (although Thursday’s work session is a doozy—bring trail mix and coffee), but two items related to affordable housing are worth applauding.

As many as 26 new affordable houses could be built and/or renovated in Northeast-Central and Southwest Central Durham if the Council approves $682,000 in funding to Habitat for Humanity.

The nonprofit is asking for $182,910 from the Dedicated Housing Funds to build at least five affordable, energy-efficient single-family houses in NECD, priced for first-time homebuyers and low-income households earning less than 60 percent of the area median income, or about $30,000 annually. The homes could be built on vacant lots; alternately, the nonprofit could buy houses and renovate them.

Habitat has requested another $500,000 in Dedicated Housing Funds, part of which is also earmarked for 10 new or rehabilitated homes in NECD.

Homeownership rates are low in NECD, where two-thirds to 90 percent of residents rent, according to data from the Durham Neighborhood Compass. Of those who do own homes, 40 percent to 60 percent spend more than a third of their monthly income on housing costs —mortgage, utilities, insurance. Meanwhile, median household incomes range from $16,926 a year to $27,500. Durham's median annual household income is $50,000.

Habitat would use the rest of the money for buying up to 11 vacant lots in Southwest-Central Durham. The nonprofit would then build new houses there, also targeted toward first-time homebuyers. These houses would be similar to previous Habitat projects in the West End and Lyon Park. 

SWCD also has a high rate of renters and homeownership costs, due in part to the condition of older houses that are expensive to maintain.


100-year-old home in Old North Durham gets temporary reprieve from demolition

Like people, some houses wear their age well. Although they require regular maintenance, the homes are nonetheless declared by those who have poked and prodded them and shone flashlights in their nether parts, to “have good bones.”

But the bones of the century-old home at 204 E. Trinity Ave., are bad, bowed, broken. 

GetPropertyImagePhoto courtesy Durham County Tax Assessor

This how we got here: The 1,100-square-foot house at the corner of Roxboro Street, once graced with gables, slender columns and gingerbread detailing, embodies the classic tension between the idealism that nearly every historic home can be saved and the reality that some simply cannot.

Built in 1915, the Trinity Avenue house was neglected for at nearly 20 years of its life. As a result its front porch sags. Its back end must be propped up to remain upright. The foundation teeters. A fire burned through the roof, as if its head had been trepanned.

Despite these drawbacks, developer Stuart Cullinan had planned to renovate the home, which one of his companies purchased for $75,000 from Durham-based Community Reinvestment Partners in September.

Then the structural engineers investigated. They pronounced the house D.O.A. The front wall, perhaps, they told him, could be saved. In late November, Cullinan applied for, and received from the city, a demolition permit.

“The house is shot,” says Cullinan, president of Five Horizons Development in Raleigh. He also is the head of Tephra, LLC, the company that bought the house. “There is so little to be saved here.”

It is appropriate that the company is named Tephra, defined as “rock fragments and particles ejected by a volcanic eruption,” because that’s what Old North Durham residents did with their words when they heard that a demolition crew had arrived earlier this week.

Cullinan, as well as several Durham City Council members, were bombarded by emails and phone calls from citizens who wanted to forestall the demolition. Perhaps its condition is not as dire as it seems, they said. Perhaps the house could be moved to where it could be tended to.

“I’ve moved houses, but this one would pancake on itself,” Cullinan says. “I’m unsure if it would survive a move.”

Peter Skillern, executive director of Community Reinvestment Partners, says his nonprofit had also wanted to renovate the house. Among its many social justice projects, CRP works to increase the number and quality of affordable homes in the neighborhood of Geer and Roxboro streets. In 2011, CRP purchased three homes—202 E. Trinity, 204 E. Trinity and 1224 N. Roxboro— from BB&T Bank that had been in foreclosure.

“They were blighted,” Skillern says. “They had been used as the neighborhood bathroom.”

In addition because the three houses sat on the same lot, they did not conform to current zoning regulations. The homes couldn’t be renovated, financed or even rebuilt. CRP received a variance from the city that gave it more flexibility in rehabbing the houses.

With variance in hand, CRP demolish the abandoned, ramshackle home at 202 E. Trinity, which, Skillern says, “sat on the sidewalk.” It was so close to the road a driver had once plowed a car through the living room.

CRP sold both 204 E. Trinity and 1224 N. Roxboro St. to the Latino Community Credit Union, which turned the latter into affordable housing.

Then CRP eventually bought 204 E. Trinity back from the credit union, with hopes of renovating the house. But because of CRP’s numerous projects, that plan was delayed. Meanwhile, Cullinan offered to buy 204 and renovate it.

And then reality set in.

“I know I look like the bad guy,” he says, adding there was no other option.

Nonetheless, he agreed to delay the demolition to allow the Reuse Warehouse to salvage as much as it can, some wood flooring, part of a wall.

Cullinan says his company will build a new house, which will be for sale, that will “be as close of a match” as possible to the original architectural style that will better blend with the neighborhood.

“This is a natural tension about what’s important,” Skillern says. “What’s the best outcome?”

The Latino Credit Union wants affordable home ownership. Cullinan wants to turn a profit. And the historic preservation community wants to save the home, or at least the siding. Skillern wants to ensure the house is not substandard.

“It’s a classic tension in historic preservation,” he says. “Divestment happens as a result of poverty. Then when reinvestment happens neighborhoods can lose their character. It represents the shifting dynamics of the city.”

City affordable housing report suggests different experiences, opportunities, risk for low-income vs. very-low-income Durhamites

At tomorrow's City Council work session, Karen Lado from Enterprise Community Partners will share a housing profile report developed as part of her company's contracted work to help Durham with its strategy on affordable housing.

This first step in Enterprise's work gives intriguing details and data about the state of Durham's demographics -- and demographic change -- along with the nature of Durham's affordable housing stock.

We'll summarize some of its key findings here, though I'd very much encourage readers to dive through themselves, as it's a fascinating read. (The document is available on the City of Durham's web site.)

A note of caution: this is my first-pass interpretation based on what's in the report, and doesn't benefit from the consultant's presentation, which will take place at work session tomorrow. (The errors of the interpretation lie with me, et cetera.) With that said, the report raises some intriguing findings about the need for and supply of affordable housing.


Population Change in Durham

Between 2000 and 2013, the study period in the report, the City's population grew by 26%, outpacing both the overall County growth rate (19%) and the state's (20%). This jives both with recent findings that Durham is one of the fastest-growing US cities, and that most of the community's growth is happening in the urbanized, incorporated city limits.

Of the nearly 75,000 households in the City in 2000, the data suggest 52.2% of them had incomes greater than 80% of the area median income (AMI), the threshold for determining whether a household is low-income or not. By 2013, that number rises to 57.7%, with households in this group seeing the greatest 2000-2013 change (46%).

Durham also saw a rise in households with very low incomes (30-50% of AMI), at 39% growth. The number of extremely low income households shrunk by 2%, while low income households (50-80% of AMI) grew 18%.

Continue reading "City affordable housing report suggests different experiences, opportunities, risk for low-income vs. very-low-income Durhamites" »

Developers unveil site plan, more details on controversial Publix center for north Durham

A crowd of more than one hundred packed the Mt. Sylvan United Methodist Church's sanctuary on North Roxboro on Thursday night to hear the latest from the development team proposing a Publix-anchored shopping center at the corner of Guess Road and Latta Road in north Durham.


The logistics contrast from this fall's last go-round on this subject couldn't be starker: a crowded, uncomfortable elementary school cafeteria where speakers couldn't be heard and unruliness reigned at times, versus the pews-and-pulpit auditorium with PowerPoint, amplified audio, and (Publix-provided, natch) refreshments.

Similarly, while the developers were often on the defensive in the first meeting, in this session the agenda (there was an agenda) was tight, the presentation carefully crafted, and unanswered questions that raised hostility the first time were sometimes -- though crucially, not always -- answered in this second go-round.

Most crucially, residents got to see the developer's projections on the impact their Latta Road improvements would have on the congested road's traffic flow. It was an argument, backed by simulation data, that seemed to get murmurs of assent from the crowd, but follow up questions from two residents asking for before-and-after vehicular volume counts were pointedly left open.

The developer also put forth a working site plan and likely renderings for the commercial district, along with examples of single-family detached homes that Durham-based homebuilder Cimarron Homes is proposing for the site. 

There were again clear opponents in the audience -- though this time, met by what appeared to be, based on who was applauding, an equal number of proponents. 

Proponents noted their complaints over the lack of retail (or the poor quality of current retail) in north Durham, the corporate track record and store experience of Publix, and the positive impact to traffic flow from the road improvements planned.

Opponents shared their love for the quasi-rural nature of the northernmost city limits, concern on adding more retail where strip centers exist down the Guess and Roxboro corridors, and a reminder to residents that City legislative action is still needed and the project isn't a done deal.

All of which has a Durham Planning Commission and City Council hearing window targeted to summer 2016 looming as the project moves forward.

Continue reading "Developers unveil site plan, more details on controversial Publix center for north Durham" »

I Walk the Line: Ninth Street, a beer, a book and a train

Man asleep 2                                  Near the train tracks along Ninth Street   Photo by Lisa Sorg


Candace Mixon, her dog, Jelly, and Matthew Lynch were spending a perfect fall afternoon sipping beers at a picnic table outside Sam’s Quik Shop. (To clarify, Jelly was not drinking.) They looked young and metropolitan, like people who might know  which end of the regional day pass to stick in the card slot.

It turned out they were ardent public transit fans, and using our own code, we traded observations on buses and trains in the way that regulars and commuters do.

“The 400 and the 405 used to take forever, an hour just to get to Chapel Hill.”
“It’s better now that they don’t go to New Hope Commons.”
“I take the bus to Cary.”
“Is that the 100 to the 300?”
“I sometimes take the Amtrak to Raleigh. And I used to commute to Greensboro on it.”

And so on. It’s not that they or I oppose cars—we each own one—but driving has become a drag.

Read more about plans for an elevated train and the Ninth Street station.

I Walk the Line: Protecting affordability near Buchanan Boulevard

Murray 2

Old warehouse, now part of the Duke Transportation lot, Buchanan Boulevard  Photo by Lisa Sorg


Note: The public comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement ends Oct. 13. You can comment via www.ourtransitfuture.com .

 Near Brightleaf Square, an eerie stretch of West Pettigrew Street parallels an active rail line. Part of the “street” is gravel, and more closely resembles a cowpath. It then crosses Gregson, and curves past the remains of an old, brick house, its lot strewn with trash. Beneath some leaves, I find a woman’s bracelet.



Pettigrew Street dead-ends at the Duke University transportation center and impound lot, site of the future Buchanan Boulevard station. For now, though, buses await their scheduled maintenance, garbage trucks nap between routes and discarded parking lot booths transform into terrariums as vines climb inside them. Cars, having violated Duke’s strict parking rules, have been jailed until their owners bail them out.

Read more about this neighborhood and its potential affordability challenges.


On bungalows' history, urban density, and neighborhood change

Given all the hand-wringing going on about pocket neighborhoods and the disruption that's feared they may cause in further gentrifying Durham urban areas, the Atlantic Monthly's story "How Tasteless Suburbs Become Beloved Urban Neighborhoods" is a must-read.

In it, Daniel Hertz makes a compelling argument in reminding us that, for instance:

  • The 1,600 sq. ft. bungalows now praised as right-sized housing versus the "McMansions" feared to replace them, actually themselves dwarfed the housing stock that came before;
  • These housing units, arriving during the conspicuous-consumption era of the 1920s, were in fact far out of reach from the average resident in a community;
  • Zoning laws passed at the same time were pitched as a way to preserve these newly-created single-family home neighborhoods, keeping out multi-family and other arrivals that might impact the property values of the new homeowners in these neighborhoods.

Most importantly, though, Hertz nails a point I've been fretting about in the recent debates on Durham change: the same people who are most worried about the Durham-character-and-neighborhood impact caused by the addition of thousands of units of new apartments, pocket neighborhoods, condo developments, and increases in density, are the same people by and large who are worried about the rate of price increases and low-affordability in Durham neighborhoods.

Continue reading "On bungalows' history, urban density, and neighborhood change" »