Durham News

Durham City Council to hold public hearing on Golden Belt Historic District

Editor’s note: Story has been updated. The City Council will hold the public hearing Sept. 6.

Some Durham City Council members say they support making the Golden Belt area the city’s eighth local historic district, but they want to wait to decide its boundaries until after a public hearing Sept. 6.

On Thursday, city staffers and historical consultant MdM presented a proposal to create a Golden Belt Historic District in order to preserve structures from the city’s last intact mill village.

Local historic districts are groups of properties or neighborhoods that represent a particular type of development, period of time or way of life.

If Golden Belt becomes a local historic district, property owners wishing to alter or change the exterior of a historic building, structure, or site in the district would have to to obtain a certificate of occupancy from the Historic Planning Commission.

Developed between 1901 and the late 1950s, the proposed Golden Belt Historic District, which is just east of downtown, would include the Golden Belt Manufacturing Co. complex, several blocks of workers housing built by the company and a small commercial area.

A number of buildings are gone and altered, but the district retains enough integrity to convey its history, according to a letter from N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

“Altogether, the mill, housing, and surviving commercial buildings are Durham’s most intact mill village and as such represents a highly significant aspect of the city’s development,” the letter states.

Many have expressed support for the change, said city senior planner Lisa Miller, but the Durham Rescue Mission has asked to carve out a southeast corner of the district, saying the historic preservation rules would limit its future plans.

The Rescue Mission owns 13 of the 15 properties in the southeast corner of the proposed district. Of those properties, some of which are vacant lots, five are considered historically significant.

MdM included the greatest concentration of historic resources associated with Golden Belt in its proposed boundaries, according to city documents. The Historic Planning Commission and the Durham County Planning Commission endorsed the district, but the City Council will make the final decision, possibly after the Aug. 15 public hearing.

Gail Mills, who founded the Durham Rescue Mission with her husband Ernie, sent an email to Councilman Steve Schewel indicating they weren’t able to attend Thursday’s work session.  

Meanwhile, Mayor Bill Bell and Schewel were skeptical that the historic designation would help preserve affordable housing in the district, which MdM consultant Jennifer Martin indicated was part of the goal of establishing the district.

Martin indicated the district would preserve smaller mill houses, which could maintain affordable housing.

Schewel said he is in favor of historic districts as they preserve city treasures, but requirements to use certain materials and meet design requirements typically “makes housing more expensive.”

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges

What’s next

The Durham City Council will hold a public hearing and possibly vote on the Golden Belt Historic District designation and boundaries at its 7 p.m. Sept. 6 meeting in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 101 City Hall Plaza.