Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Why We Need Historic Districts, A Follow Up

http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/editorials.2016/02/09/leave-michigans-historic-distrcts-alone/80022168


East Ferry Avenue Historic District
Detroit, Michigan
en.wikipedia.org
Hello Everyone:

'Tis the season for politics and all things politico are on Blogger's agenda.  In this case, a follow up to a story a recent story, "Historic Preservation As A Tool For Good" (Feb. 8, 2016)  on a pair of bills before the Michigan State Legislature-HB 5232 and SB 720-that would eliminate historic district status for neighborhoods throughout the states.  Representative Chris Afendoulis, a Republican from Grand Rapids and sponsor of the bill, calls it A modest target little bill.  Today, we follow up on the story with opinion article from the Editorial Board of the Detroit Free Press titled "Leave Michigan's historic districts alone."  The Editorial Board does not support the bills and would like to seem them die in committee.  Let us find out what the Free Press has to say on the matter.

Broadway Avenue Historic District
Detroit, Michigan
en.wikipedia.org

This "modest targeted little bill" would affect 78 cities in Michigan that have at least one historic district.  Historic preservationists "estimate 20,000 homes lie within such districts."  Taken in context to a state with a population of 9,909,877 people (http://www.quickfacts.census.gov) that is not a lot.  Not exactly a modest proposalThe bill was introduced in the statehouse in Lansing on January 23, 2016 would, according to Nancy Finegood of the Michigan Preservation Network:

...result in a lot of districts being eliminated and municipalities simply can't afford to go about all these steps in setting up districts...It would be a huge hindrance in maintaining and creating historic districts. (http://www.freep.com; Jan. 30, 2016; accessed Feb.17, 2016)

Rep. Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Township) counters,

Our bill to modernize a law written 45 years strikes the right balance between protecting private property owners' rights and historic preservation...This will help many communities maintain their historic identity, while ensuring private property owners have a greater voice. (Ibid)

Honolulu House
Marshall Historic District
Marshall, Michigan
michigan.gov
The bill is currently in committee and essentially take apart the historic district system, first implemented in 1970.  The Editorial Board writes, "If these bills become law, any neighborhood currently designated a historic district would lose that status after 10 years.  In the system envisioned by the bills' authors, residents of current historic districts would have to reapply every 10 years, earning approval  from both a majority of homeowners,  but also a majority of voters in a city-wide election."  Not very efficient is it?

No, in fact Amy Elliot Bragg, the president of Preservation Detroit told the newspaper that the proposed legislation is,

...actually about making it so difficult to establish a historic district that nobody in their sane mind would do it.  In a February 6, 2016 article by John Gallagher, "Bills threaten local historic districts in Michigan," Suzanne Schulz, planning director for the city of Grand Rapids said,

You're always trying to stabilize these areas and provide some level of confidence for the homeowners and business owners that when they invest in an area, their investment will be preserved.  (Ibid; Feb. 6, 2016)

Highland Park Historic District
Highland Park, Michigan
mibungalow.com
 
You may wondering, "Don't homeowners have a say in whether or not their neighborhoods should be designated or not?" Yes, typically they do however, as the Editorial Board observes, "..when coupled with the eventual elimination of historic districts sans a city-wide vote--a tremendously and costly burden for historic district homeowners--the end result would likely be a state free of historic districts."  Further, "Historic district status preserves the unique char of our oldest neighborhoods, ensures that significant historic homes and buildings can't be demolished or renovated past recognition, and bars new construction inconsistent with the neighborhood's character.

In an interview with John Gallagher, Rep. Afendoulis called his proposal ...a common sense way to address these concerns.  Rep. Afendoulis also told Mr. Gallgher that he acted out of concern for property rights, citing that residents of historic districts cannot remodel their homes because of restrictions in PA169, which created historic districts in 1970.  His bill would loosen the requirements, imposed by historic districts, that homeowners must maintain the historic fabric of the neighborhood.  Further, it would take power away from historic commissions and put it in the hands of local politicians who could freely disregard historic stands for any reason. (Ibid)

Leland Historic District
a.k.a. Fishtown
Leelanau County, Michigan
alma.com
However, residents of historic district do benefit from higher property values more than residents of non-designated neighborhoods.  Case in point, historic districts in Rep. Afendoulis's constituency-Grand Rapids Heritage Hill-Detroit's Indian Village and Lafayette Park are among the most stable communities in these cities.  In short, there is a cost to every benefit.

Accord to Amy Elliot Bragg, the proposed initiative would,

...make the local legislative body the repository of authority in a historic district, a process...could be burdensome in a city like Detroit, where there are more than a hundred historic districts.

The Detroit City Council recently passed a resolution formally condemning Rep. Afendoulis's bill.

Yorktown Historic District
Detroit, Michigan
free.com

Rep. Chris Afendoulis says he is troubled by the way new historic district boundaries are drawn, some homeowners become part of such district without their consent or knowledge, or are not duly informed during the home purchase that the property is subject to restrictions.  It seems a little hard to believe that the above situation frequently arises.  Blogger agrees with the suggestion of the  Free Press Editorial Board for kinder legislative remedy that would provide resolution while leaving Michigan's state historic district in place.  Ms. Bragg said,

...that the process neighborhoods pursue to achieve historic district status is prolonged and requires community input and approval--and some neighborhoods with historic significance choose not to pursue or complete the process.

Remember, preservation is voluntary.

The Editorial Board believes that "...there's the hypocrisy inherent in this proposed legislation.  While claiming concern with individual property owners' rights.  Afendoulis and his cohorts would trample the significant efforts individual property owners have undertaken to win historic for their communities."

No doubt there will be more to say on the subject, especially in this election year.  Keep your eyes out for more information on this blog and in Blogger's social media pages.