Durham Rescue Mission Questions Historic District Boundaries

Jun 24, 2016

Durham Rescue Mission CEO Ernie Mills wants to build a community center in a proposed historic district.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

Despite opposition, it’s looking more like the Golden Belt Local Historic District will include a controversial block of property owned by the Durham Rescue Mission.

Durham’s Planning Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission support protecting the last of the old mill houses near the historic Golden Belt manufacturing factories.

But the historic district would hinder growth of the Durham Rescue Mission, which serves hundreds of homeless people, according to the group's  Founder and CEO Ernie Mills.

"The historic district would stop us and forbid us from building a community center to help the kids," Mills said. "This community is a very poor, poor community and we need a community center."

Proponents of the Golden Belt Local Historic District want to keep the proposed historic designation boundaries. They said the district could help preserve the mill village character and help slow down gentrification.

But Mills said he hopes the Durham City Council will exclude the block across from the rescue mission when officials vote on the historic district designation in September.

The property the rescue mission wants excluded from the proposed historic district is on the east side of Alston Avenue, which will soon be undergoing a major widening project.

The rescue mission owns 13 of the 15 properties in the 1200 blocks of Morning Glory Avenue and Worth Street.  They asked the officials with the Durham City/County Planning Office to draw those properties out of the historic district.

Mills said there is probably only one property in the block worthy of a historic designation.

"As you look at these properties, I don't see anything that valuable that a person would want to live into," said Mills. "I don't see where they would take that much pride into it.  We believe the homeless deserve something better than this."

Mills said a community center would have a gym, offices and rooms for community organizations. But it would be hard to get such a project off the ground with new historic preservation rules.