Durham Rescue Mission, city locked in land dispute

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More than 2,500 signatures were delivered to Durham City Hall.

Early Thursday, Dr. Ernie Mills, CEO and co-founder of the Durham Rescue Mission, delivered more than 2,500 signatures to Durham City Hall. Those signatures were in the form of a petition against the city for designating land the Rescue Mission owns as historic.

In October 2010, the city received a citizen petition calling for the creation of the Golden Belt Local Historic District. This designation would reclassify a particular area of Durham (see map link below) as historic - meaning renovations, modifications, and new development would have to meet "historic standards."

The Durham Rescue Mission owns 20 properties inside the Golden Belt Historic area - 15 of which are vacant. Though the five occupied properties won't require immediate attention, the remaining 15 vacant ones will have to meet the new guidelines once a structure is erected.

MAP OF DESIGNATED GOLDEN BELT DISTRICT

Mills said he believes if the Golden Belt proposal succeeds, certain renters or owners will be priced out. "The greatest need of this community anyway is affordable housing," he told ABC11.

Also, the cost associated with constructing and maintaining historic properties will be elevated.

Mills said this makes running the non-profit mission especially difficult.

"It's hard enough for me to raise the money to feed roughly 400 people at our men's campus and our women's campus," he said. "And for them to add an extra cost to us, I don't understand that."

Mills finds himself torn knowing that he benefits regardless of how the city decides on the matter because he owns the land.

RELATED: HISTORIC BOUNDARIES AND DURHAM RESCUE MISSION PROPERTIES (.pdf)

"It will be built on eventually, but it won't be affordable housing, which is really needed in Durham," he said. "Whether we build it or somebody else builds it, I don't know. But it will not be affordable housing."

Mills believes the petitions delivered Thursday will give the Rescue Mission more leverage in dealing with the city.

"Any good detective will tell you to follow the money," he told ABC11. Mills wants it to be clear that he's not against the designation, just on the lots that he owns. "Just exempt our 20 properties," he urged.

Mills said he is particularly concerned about renters who he feels will be displaced because of the Golden Belt designation.

"What's going to happen: their houses are going to greatly increase in value. But then what kind of rent are they going to charge to the person that's living in that house?" he asked. "Their rent is going to go sky high. So we're trying to protect that poor person that can't afford that high rent."

Figures provided to ABC11 show that the monetary value of work provided by men and women of the Durham Rescue Mission exceeded $17 million in 2015.

RELATED: DURHAM RESCUE MISSION GIFTS TO THE COMMUNITY REPORT (.pdf)

According to Mills, some of those men and women will not be able to contribute the way they have been.

"It just breaks my heart to know that our neighborhood is being destroyed by pushing those out that the neighborhood was really built for to start off with," he said.

ABC11 reached out to the City of Durham for comment and city officials responded with the following statement:

"The decision on the appropriate boundary of a local historic district for Golden Belt, in addition to the decision of whether to designate it at all, lies with the City Council and is to be discussed at the public hearing on Tuesday, September 6."

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