Pond ruling delays Rescue Mission expansion
Plans for a 300-bed expansion of the Durham Rescue Mission are on hold until early next year so designers can rework the placement of a drainage-retention pond.
The mission’s lawyer, Patrick Byker, told Durham’s Board of Adjustment the delay comes because City/County Planning Director Steve Medlin ruled the pond can’t go on an off-site tract that’s zoned for residential uses.
The needed redesign is “something that will take a while, a few months,” Byker said in asking the board to delay until the end of January a vote on the mission’s permit request.
Board members agreed to the delay, the second postponement since they opened hearings on the project in May.
The project is somewhat controversial among neighbors in the Golden Belt and North-East Central Durham area because the mission has been acquiring former home sites in the blocks on the east side of Alston Avenue.
The first postponement came in May because opponents questioned whether Medlin had been too lenient in agreeing to consider the project a “commercial dormitory,” which under the relevant zoning rules sent to the appointed Board of Adjustment for review.
They thought the new buildings instead fit the definition of a “social service institution” and thus should be reviewed by the elected City Council.
Pressed for a formal ruling on that point, Medlin on Aug. 11 sided with the mission.
A commercial dormitory in Durham law is for “students of a college, university or nonprofit organization.” Medlin said the Rescue Mission is earmarking the buildings for men in its “Victory Program, working on their GED or participating in job training.”
Social service institutions are different, the ordinance covering things like substance-abuse treatment centers, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and transient lodging.
But opponent also questions the stormwater pond, specifically the plan to put it on a lot two blocks north of the mission proper.
And Medlin said that because the pond “is infrastructure required by city code to support a commercial use,” it can only go on land zoned for the dormitory the mission plans to build.
The Franklin Street tract the plan actually envisions using for the pond isn’t zoned for a dormitory, he said, adding that the mission needs to modify the plan or apply for a rezoning.
A rezoning application would require a City Council vote.
Medlin’s ruling on both points is appealable, to the Board of Adjustment and eventually the courts. The deadline for filing an appeal is Sept. 10, and so far no one has filed one, Assistant Planning Director Pat Young said.
Byker’s comments to the adjustment board on Tuesday didn’t hint at an appeal. Reached later in the day, he said his clients “do not have any plans to appeal the stormwater determination from the planning director.”
The lawyer had written Medlin on July 29 to it looked to him that there are “numerous” stormwater ponds in Durham “that serve various parcels with differing zoning designations.”
Byker’s July 29 letter also argued that the mission is not a social-service institution, as it’s not in the substance-abuse treatment business.
In dealing with its clients, the Durham Rescue Mission instead “preaches repentance based on the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Byker said
Mission staffers aren’t licensed in substance-abuse or psychiatric counseling. They instead “focus on teaching the Bible and life skills,” he said.