Local historic district legislation is under threat from a proposed amendment (HB5232 and SB720) to Public Act 169 — the state law that allows local Michigan communities to protect their history through local historic districts.
You may have already heard that Rep. Chris Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids, and Sen. Peter MacGregor, R-Rockford, are introducing legislation into the Michigan House and Senate that could seriously weaken the protections afforded to Michigan’s historic districts under PA 169 of 1970, the Historic Districts Act. This follows legislation introduced in Wisconsin recently that would also have decimated their local historic districts act.
It is critical to have as many people speak out against the Bill by writing legislators, emailing, sharing on social media, or just show up for today’s testimony in Lansing (Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 12:00 PM, Room 307, House Office Building, 124 N. Capitol Ave) and fill the room with preservation supporters (fill out a card against the Bill) #SaveYourHD
You can read the bill here.
Here is Michigan Historic Preservation Network’s excellent summary and response.
Here’s how the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation responded when confronted with a similar bill.
See the House bill sponsors, and check its status here.
Here’s the page with information on the House Local Government Committee, its members, and how to contact them.
– Contact your representative. Call and tell them you like your local historic district the way it is! Ask them to protect the law that makes Michigan’s historic communities more vibrant and economically successful. Share the story of a building that historic district protection helped save in your neighborhood. Find your representatives here.
– Attend the hearings. Go to Lansing and make your voice heard. The next hearing is scheduled for TODAY, Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 12:00 PM, Room 307, House Office Building, 124 North Capitol Avenue. (The amendment was just introduced yesterday — seems like short notice for you to have an opportunity to participate in the process, huh?)We will post news about other public hearings here — and/or ask your representative’s office to keep you in the loop!
– Talk to your friends. In the coming weeks there will be lots of misinformation and confusion about how historic preservation works and what it’s for. Share this page with a friend or post a link on your Facebook page. It makes a huge difference. #SaveYourHD
WHAT WE KNOW
Local historic district laws are the cornerstone of preservation in Michigan’s historic communities and the only tool that Michigan communities have to protect their historic places. Many landmarks have been saved thanks to local historic district designation and many more have been lost without it. Glad we saved the State Savings Bank from being torn down to make a parking lot? We were able to save it because it’s in a historic district, and the HDC did not approve the owner’s request to demolish it. (Over 100 community members came to that hearing to have their voices heard.) Wish we had saved the Hudson’s Building or old Tiger Stadium? They weren’t in local historic districts, so you didn’t have a say about whether or not they were torn down.
Historic districts are the foundation of our rebounding cities. Our historic buildings and neighborhoods are crucial building blocks for creating thriving neighborhoods, attracting businesses, bringing tourists to town, and instilling a sense of pride and belonging among all of our citizens. The restaurants and shops in Midtown’s Willis-Selden neighborhood, the downtown skyscrapers — many of them formerly vacant and at risk of demolition — attracting new businesses to the city, a summer bike tour through Indian Village and Belle Isle — all brought to you by local historic districts, which kept those neighborhoods intact and maintained their unique character.
Now, Republican lawmakers have introduced a proposal to amend Public Act 169, the law that allows Michigan communities to adopt their own local historic district ordinances. These lawmakers have already tried to mislead the public about how local historic districts work and what this amendment will do. And they want to color people who care about their history as “activists” who have too much power over development decisions. (That’s news to us, since when we comment at hearings, we’re almost always up against expensive lawyers and lobbyists paid for by deep pockets who don’t care what YOU, the people in the neighborhood, think.)
Preservation Detroit believes this amendment jeopardizes historic resources in Michigan in a few key ways:
–Local historic preservation ordinances are the only tool available to Michigan communities to protect their historic places. We all benefit when our history is protected. Proposed changes place the long-term protection of community heritage in the hands of short-term owners.
– The “owner consent” provisions take away a constitutional power from Michigan municipalities and give it to property owners. It’s like making local signage zoning rules, or setback rules, or fence rules optional. Regulation of private property (including historic preservation regulations) for the purpose of beautification and redevelopment of the community falls within municipal powers of zoning. Taking that away from local leadership would put some of our most important landmarks at risk.
– It throws away the knowledge of our historic designation boards and district commissions. Today, a historic designation board or “study committee” is comprised mostly of members of the public who have some expertise in architecture, history, urban planning, and preservation, as well as real estate professionals and developers. The amendment removes the language that recommends that study committees be made up primarily of people with training in the areas they are evaluating. Wouldn’t you want some doctors on a committee that studies health issues? Maybe some water quality scientists evaluating water systems?
– It protects slumlords. The amendment includes a clause that requires a historic district commission to seek local government’s approval before demanding repairs on a property being demolished by neglect. We shouldn’t be helping owners avoid accountability for their problem properties.
– It removes a neutral third party, the State Historic Preservation Review Board, in appeals decisions. Under the current law, owners who don’t like the decisions made by historic district commissions appeal those decisions to a part of the State Historic Preservation Office, a neutral third party. Under the amendment, the appeal is made instead at the local level — for example the City Council — introducing local political and development pressures into the process.
– It slows the process down. It already takes a long time for a proposed historic district to become law — sometimes a year or more. Requiring property owners in a proposed district to be petitioned before a study is even undertaken could significantly bloat or even indefinitely delay an already long, bureaucratic process. Thanks, Lansing!
– It automatically dissolves historic districts after 10 years. Under the amended legislation, historic districts will “self-destruct” every 10 years unless they are re-approved in a general election. Can you think of any other local laws that have to re-become laws every 10 years? There aren’t any!
In short, this law will remove YOUR local control and YOUR opportunity for public input that the current historic district law allows. Tell Lansing this is a step in the wrong direction for historic communities in Michigan. Tell Lansing not to take away YOUR voice for the historic architecture and neighborhoods that make your life here better. #SaveYourHD
**We have borrowed extensively from wording used by the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation in this post, and thank them extensively as well**