Published: Jul 17, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Jul 14, 2011 07:15 PM
Where a reviving East Durham neighborhood meets an established East Durham institution, there is a fundamental conflict of interests.
Golden Belt residents and the Durham Rescue Mission are trying to work things out. They got together last week, and will meet again July 30 to put some ideas on paper.
"Ideas of how the neighborhood and the Rescue Mission interact," said landscape architect Dan Jewell, who moderated a 2 1/2- hour meeting where the two sides laid out their points of view.
The Rescue Mission is an addiction-rehabilitation center and emergency shelter at East Main Street and Alston Avenue, established in 1974. Its property extends into the Golden Belt neighborhood, a long-depressed mill village from the early 20th century where a stream of new homeowners and long-term residents are in the midst of an inner-city revival.
For the residents, preserving the character of the Golden Belt Historic District is vital. "The greatest asset we have is these historic buildings," said homeowner John Martin.
For the Rescue Mission, a sharp increase in demand for its services has created "immediate needs" for expansion, said Rob Tart, chief operating officer. Its planned 20,000 square-foot Center for Hope would close two streets in the neighborhood and require demolishing several houses the residents consider parts of the neighborhood's historic "fabric."
"We wanted to get the input of the neighborhood" before making plans final, said Rescue Mission founder Ernie Mills, but his wife and co-founder, Gail Mills, pointed out that what the Rescue Mission needs and what the neighborhood needs are two different things.
"The Rescue Mission is not residential," she said. "There are institutional needs."
These conflicting interests represent changing times.
"It's the apex of the problems with gentrification," Jewell said.
Ernie, an ordained Baptist minister, said he felt a divine call to Durham. He and Gail opened their mission on East Main Street, one block east of its current site, because he felt that was the city's ground zero for addiction and despair. The East Main-Alston Avenue area, known as Edgemont, had been impoverished and crime-ridden for decades. Up until very recently, it remained a run-down section most people would want to avoid and where residents were afraid to leave their homes at night.
Then, spurred along with renovation of the 1901 Golden Belt textile factory as an arts-oriented mixed-use complex in 2007, the image as well as the facts of life in the adjoining residential section began to change.
"We want this neighborhood to be ... for people who are acting out of choice," said resident Chloe Palenchar, as well as for those who come to the Rescue Mission "poor and desperate."
While new people were coming in, old-timers were invigorating too.
"I've been living here 35 years, and I have no intention of leaving," said East Durham resident Vivian McCoy.
Trying to resolve the problem with satisfaction all around has become a project for Durham Area Designers, an organization of architects, landscape designers and planners that organized last week's meeting and the July 30 follow-up.
"It's an exercise," Jewell said, "on the growth of this neighborhood, the infill of this neighborhood [and] how the Rescue Mission becomes a vital and really a pride-full part of the neighborhood."
Landscape architect Wanona Sacher was at the meeting as both an East Durham resident and a Durham Area Designer.
"I think that the meeting was very proactive," she said. "I'm excited about our next workshop. ... I always love watching citizens at work."