Old West Durham Neighborhood Protection Overlay – OWD NPO

Published by info@preservationdurham.org on



Old West Durham, one of the earliest neighborhoods in this city, is rich with reminders of our history and, thus, of significant interest to Preservation Durham. Part of the area included in this Neighborhood Protection Overlay lies in a National Register Historic District, and many houses in the neighborhood are physical reminders of the “mill village” that was so important in Durham’s early industrial boom.
Quoting from Jean Anderson’s history of Durham, “the mill homes were, ‘clean, well-maintained, inexpensive (usually about twenty-five cents per room per week), and convenient. They liked the sociability of the village. They had space in their yards for vegetables and flowers…Christmas was a wonderful time. Everyone got an apple and an orange and a stick of candy.’

The nomination for West Durham’s listing in 1986 as a National Register Historic District notes that “In Durham alone, Erwin Cotton Mills employed approximately 1,600 people at the beginning of the 1910s, most of whom lived in company-constructed houses that by this time radiated in every direction from the mills.”

The planning staff summary of the NPO process says “The application identified the neighborhood’s unique design elements and history as modest workforce housing for millworkers. The impetus for the application was the demolition of neighborhood homes (for example, 19 homes have been demolished over the past ten years), and the replacement of those homes often with much larger and more expensive infill development considered by NPO initiators as out of context with the neighborhood.”

The proposed ordinance notes that “This overlay establishes standards for the Old West Durham neighborhood to ensure that new residential development is compatible with the established urban form, modest scale, and mill village character of the neighborhood.”

Although Preservation Durham was conceived 40 years ago in response to demolitions blamed on disinvestment and urban blight, the challenges we face today are more about preserving the character and economic diversity of our neighborhoods, particularly those surrounding our thriving downtown. The pace of change here is breathtaking, and small well-built homes in walkable urban neighborhoods that were once affordable to middle class workers are being replaced with much larger homes of less quality. Local historic districts and neighborhood protection overlays are among the few tools available to residents to help mitigate these effects of rampant speculative development, and rising property values and tax rates. We support every tool in the kit that helps our urban neighborhoods increase density where appropriate without sacrificing the historic character and integrity that makes them desirable places to live, and we fully support the Old West Durham Neighborhood in their request for the NPO.

Contact: Bob Ashley, interim executive director, 919-208-9877; rashley48@gmail.com

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