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New Michigan legislation could reform historic districts

Supporters say the bills would protect property rights and increase local control

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Michigan property owners would have more influence in the formation and administration of the state’s historic districts under legislation introduced in the Legislature on Tuesday Jan. 26 to modernize Michigan’s Historic Districts Act.

According to supporters of the bills, new historic districts are determined by commissions at the state level with little input from communities, which may negatively impact property owners.

 

“Our bill to modernize a law written 45 years ago strikes the right balance between protecting private property owners’ rights and historic preservation,” said Rep. Chris Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Township). “This will help many communities maintain their historic identity while ensuring private property owners have a greater voice.”

House Bill 5232 and Senate Bill 720, sponsored by Afendoulis and Sen. Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford), respectively, would revise the Historic Districts Act to allow more local input by:

  • Requiring new districts to receive the support of at least two-thirds of property owners within a proposed district;
  • Expanding local review of proposed projects; and
  • Allowing property owners to appeal to city councils or township boards about historic districts.

Written in 1970, current law leaves historic district creation in the hands of “Study Commissions” that are composed solely of preservation activists.

As a result, private property rights are not considered. Additionally, exact boundaries of a proposed historic district can be changed without notice to or input from affected property owners through decisions made in Lansing, not local communities.

“It is important that historic districts have the support of our communities before they are enacted,” Sen. Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford).

“This common sense legislation, therefore, ensures private property owners and construction experts are represented when considering the state’s historic districts.”

The legislators said modernizing the Historic Districts Act will allow local communities to decide whether they want to embrace new high-tech construction materials and new technology like energy-efficient windows.

“Modern construction practices and cutting-edge building materials and windows now allow private property owners to improve and reinvest in ways that are cost effective and environmentally sound while maintaining historical integrity and consistency,” said Rep. Jason Sheppard (R-Temperance).

“This legislation provides much needed updates allowing for flexibility at the local level and has the potential to incentivize – as opposed to discourage – reinvestment, improvements and upgrades to aging properties.”

“As someone who has seen the building and construction industry undergo major changes since the 1960s, I understand firsthand how our outdated Historic Districts Act hampers renovation and investment,” said Terry Kleiman, founder of Lasting Details, a Lansing company that makes historically accurate building details, using computers and cellular PVC.

“Building materials have changed, technology has changed, methods have changed. Policies about historic districts must modernize, too.”

FAST FACTS: What HB 5232 & SB 720 do:

ü  Protects private property rights by ensuring widespread support for historic districts among affected property owners.

ü  Promotes transparency by requiring historic district boundaries be clearly defined from the outset,  prohibiting changes “midstream” without disclosure and notice to affected property owners.

ü  Fosters accountability by requiring an affirmative vote by the local governing body and the voters of a given municipality every 10 years to continue an existing historic district.

ü  Gives affected property owners a greater voice by allowing private property owners and construction experts to be represented as part of the “Study Commissions” that can create historic districts.

ü  Ensures local control over historic districts by allowing appeal to local governing bodies – rather than appeals to Lansing.

 

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