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Rezoning could halt Durham Rescue Mission's planned community center

Posted August 10

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— A proposed rezoning could stymie the Durham Rescue Mission's hopes of building a community center to avoid a rainout like last year's Christmas celebration.

The mission has more than a dozen vacant lots that sit near its Center for Hope on East Main Street in downtown Durham. Chief Executive Ernie Mills wanted to use the lots to build the community center that could be used for outreach programs, such as the back to school party and Christmas dinner.

The lots sit in the Golden Belt District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2010, Golden Belt residents began petitioning to have the area designated as a local historic district, which could make it difficult for Mills' center to be built.

"Any proposal for new construction would be compatible with existing historic structures," said Lisa Miller, a planner with Durham's Planning Department, saying structures would have to have the same size and style to maintain the "feel" of the district.

"If it's declared historic, if we build on this property, then we have to add something that looks historic," Mills said. "It would have to be under the same materials, special materials, and that would jack the cost way up."

Miller agreed that adhering to the size requirements can add cost. She said there are ways to design a large building to look smaller, but it's usually not a cheap option.

"You may have additional costs of trying to articulate the building in a way that makes it compatible," she said.

DeDreana Freeman, one of the homeowners who have been fighting for a local historic district, said Mills has been reluctant to listen to their concerns.

"Why would you not want to keep the thread of what's going on in the community going? It's been positive. We have more homeownership," Freeman said.

She said she wants improved communication between the mission and those living around the facility.

"Can we come together to find a way to not have to have an argument about this?" she asked.

A public hearing on the rezoning is scheduled for Sept. 6.

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