Durham Rescue Mission / former Fuller Memorial Presbyterian, 10.02.10
The former church building on the northeast corner of N. Alston and East Main St. was erected by the Fuller Memorial Presbyterian Church in 1928.
The church began as a Sunday School mission in 1892 serving the community that arose around the Commonwealth Cotton Mill. At the turn of the century, the construction of the Durham Hosiery No. 1 and the Golden Belt Manufacturing Company further increased the population around the mission.
In 1909, the mission was organized into the Edgemont Presbyterian Church by the Orange Presbytery, and a frame building was erected on the northeast corner of N. Alston and E. Main Sts. In ~1924, this building was torn down to allow for the construction of a new masonry structure, and the congregation was renamed the Fuller Memorial Presbyterian Church in honor of TB Fuller.
A fuzzy Bird's Eye view looking northwest, showing Fuller Memorial in the mid 1950s
Aerial of the church and the adjacent Golden Belt / Morning Glory mill village, 1959.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)
In 1974, the church sold the building and moved to a new location at the corner of Pleasant Drive Extension and Mineral Springs Road; it began services at that location in 1977 and is still active.
The building was purchased by Ernie Mills and his wife, who had founded the Durham Rescue Mission in 1974.
Aerial of the Rescue Mission and mill village, 2010.
The Rescue Mission has provided a steady beacon of support for homeless members of the Durham community; per a recent press release, they "provided 232,653 meals and served 1,077 different men, women and children..." during 2010. More information about the size and scope of the organization is contained in their last tax return filing and on their website.
For the last several years, the Rescue Mission has been making big plans to expand - with what Ernie Mills recently dubbed a "God-size project" - purchasing a large number of parcels/houses in the Golden Belt / Morning Glory mill village to the north of the church and seeking donations for expansion.
Rescue Mission-owned parcels in the Golden Belt / Morning Glory neighborhood, 2010.
It became clearer that the Rescue Mission planned to move ahead with their plans late in 2010, when they applied to rezone the residential parcels they own. Plans submitted to the City / County Planning department with the rezoning demonstrated several worrisome elements to neighbors. The scale had grown considerably from the single multipurpose building discussed in previous years; it now stretched over portions of five city blocks, involved the demolition of 9 houses in historic district, and contemplated the closing of two streets, creating a fenced/gated facility stretching over three blocks.
Initial Rescue Mission plans.
I attended a meeting between concerned neighbors and the leadership of the Durham Rescue Mission, in which the neighbors made clear their opposition to the street closings, the demolition of 9 houses in the Golden Belt historic district, and the compound-like land use planning intended by the Rescue Mission. All expressed support for the Rescue Mission expanding their footprint and/or services.
The Rescue Mission said they would consider these concerns carefully; they then promptly hired attorneys K&L Gates to represent their interests in the rezoning and submitted the following plans to the planning department:
Rescue Mission Expansion plans, December 2010
Phasing plan, December, 2010.
Plan overlaid on Google satellite imagery, 2010
The Rescue Mission's support for the widening of Alston Avenue seems a bit less befuddling now. Pedestrian flow from east to west through these blocks clearly is not a priority in these plans. I have to admit, I was disappointed by the Rescue Mission's lack of support as members of the immediate neighborhood (and beyond) tried to fend off the NCDOT widening of Alston, and felt a bit of "you reap what you sow" when an NCDOT environmental justice finding meant that the roadway would shift to the east, avoiding the demolition of Los Primos - the only grocery store in the area - by taking some of the Rescue Mission's land intended for their project.
However, the Rescue Mission immediately began seeking support to move the roadway back through Los Primos. Then the city became fully engaged in locating an alternative site for a grocery store so that NCDOT could still demolish Los Primos - which did not come to fruition. The last deal on the table seems to preserve both the RM plans and Los Primos, by cutting the roadway extremely close to the grocery store on the west side. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether that's the last iteration.
The Rescue Mission continues to push forward with a petition to close Morning Glory Avenue - which connects Golden Belt at East Main St. with 'Old' East Durham at N. Hyde Park - and Worth Streets, as well as a rezoning. Just yesterday, 01/19/11, it was announced that they had received $800,000 in grant funding to move forward with the first phase of their project.
So is it still possible to come up with a solution that furthers the goals of both the neighborhood and the Rescue Mission? I think so, but it's going to require a willingness to find creative solutions, rather than steadfast adherence to a pre-determined plan.
One of the more frustrating aspects of land use planning (and governance in general) is that - for all the data, plans, guidelines, etc. out there - decisions generally come down to an emotional appeal. It's easy in these situations to conflate the mission and the implementation; groups that broadly work to serve the community - albeit for a salary - generally work to create such conflations when they need political action. I.e., this isn't about a rezoning, it's about saving lives. Do we really care more about saving historic housing than feeding the hungry? Would we deny site plan approval and put homeless people out on the street? I've had the old "he cares about houses, not people" trotted out on me before.
We can see the effectiveness of this kind of tactic in the street closure the city voted for on behalf of Greystone Baptist back in November 2010. Despite the fact that the closure (and demolition of mill housing in West Durham) violated the small area plan that the city/county planning department had put together with the neighborhood, the city voted for the closure because Greystone proffered that the closure would allow them to expand day care options in West Durham. So the question becomes - will you really vote against the children of Durham?
Of course these tactics are not intellectually honest, but most businesses - private, university, 501c3, etc. - politicking for their projects aren't interested in win-wins - just wins. If the groups are non-profits, the city is allowing people to wallow in sin/homelessness/ill health/obesity/etc. If they are for-profits, the city is throwing away jobs, tax revenues, directly funded civic improvements, and corporate prestige.
But all of that aside, this is terrible land planning - the worst of it represented by closing streets that connect the neighborhood - antithetical to the principles laid out in the HOPE VI revitalization plan for the neighborhood over 10 years ago, which sought to break down the "superblock" of Few Gardens to provide increased connectivity and integration in the neighborhood; closing two public right-of-ways and creating a fenced 'campus' over three blocks re-establishes what the community sought to reverse. Per the revitalization plan:
"B. A Connected Neighborhood
North East Central Durham must overcome not only its isolation from the surrounding community but also the isolation experienced by pockets within the neighborhood. To do so, the design must establish street patterns that physically connect the neighborhood internally and to adjacent areas. This involves breaking oversize blocks into a more regular street grid and aligning intersections and streets to establish a predictable pattern to the neighborhood. Reconnecting the neighborhood also requires invigorating vacant or desolate spaces that create psychological distance."
The creation of a 'wall' on the east side of Alston Avenue (combined with the Rescue Mission's desire to close two streets - Morning Glory and Franklin, NCDOT plans to close another - Wall - as a part of the Alston widening) will compound the isolation of east-of-Alston from west-of-Alston perpetrated by the widening of Alston Avenue. Creating this kind of barrier has never portended good things for neighborhoods and communities. Although the orientation of the buildings isn't laid out here, the smart money says that, with a fence around the perimeter, they'll be oriented towards the internal parking lot.
Not to mention that demolishing 9 of the historic mill houses in the Golden Belt-Morning Glory National Register Historic District not only destroys the historic framework and stock of the mill village, but removes incentives to homeowners to move into and revitalize those historic houses through state historic tax credits. Golden Belt is the most intact combination of original mill and mill village that remains in Durham, despite the heavy losses it has suffered over the past 25 years.
I'll give benefit of the doubt that part of the plan is simply an inability on the part of the Rescue Mission's directors to acknowledge that the investment in the neighborhood by the Durham Housing Authority, the city (Eastway Village,) Habitat, Scientific Properties, and any number of individuals has dramatically changed this neighborhood for the better. When asked by an immediate neighbor why the Rescue Mission felt the need to fence their campus rather than integrating it with the neighborhood, Ernie Mills said, without irony, "there are a lot of bad influences out there." Just five years ago, he would have been right; but through the collective effort of many people in the community - including the Rescue Mission - the neighborhood has drastically changed for the better. Creating a growing Rescue Mission that brings in, rather than shuts out their neighbors, I would argue, is the best thing not just for the neighbors, but for the people that the Rescue Mission serves. It's the model of integration that the North-East-Central Durham revitalization plan sought, and many have worked to implement. We all benefit from creating a safe and vibrant community for one another - not from shutting ourselves inside high fences and absolving ourselves of responsibility outside those gates.
I hope the Rescue Mission will shelve their lobbyists and attorneys and have a real give-and-take dialogue with the neighbors - where I am convinced a win-win for both 'sides' can be hammered out; it won't look like what the Rescue Mission has proposed, but it will serve the entire community better.
If they won't go willingly (which it appears they won't,) I hope the city council has the courage to stand up to the dichotomies that the Rescue Mission/K&L Gates will propose, and insist upon a solution negotiated with the neighborhood. Because right now, the Rescue Mission seems determined to push their plans through with demolitions, fences, and street closures, and battle lines have been drawn - such that the Rescue Mission is opposing the neighborhood's desire to designate the National Register Historic District as a local historic district, and the neighbors have filed a protest petition over the Rescue Mission's rezoning.
I wish the council members courage on this one, because people I've spoken with about rational change in these plans seem deathly afraid of publicly offending the Rescue Mission - for fear of tarnishing their own public image. But none of us, no matter how holy our calling, are above criticism; it is okay to be both for the goals and success of the Rescue Mission in serving the homeless and against their land use plans as presented; and demanding better from the latter does not diminish the former.
Most people reading this blog know that I am Chief Operating Officer for Scientific Properties, which has invested heavily in the renovation of Golden Belt, 2-3 blocks west of the Rescue Mission; as the line in the sidebar states, Endangered Durham represents my personal opinion.
Find this spot on a Google Map.