Lawmakers seek to ease restrictions on historic districts

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Capital News Service
LANSING— State lawmakers are pushing to change a law that preserves historic districts so that residents will have a greater say in how they can modify their homes.
A coupleof  Republican legislators want to rewrite the 45-year-old Historic Districts Act so that the people it affects will be able to modify their homes without being easily denied by the historic preservation committees in charge of them.
Historic districts are areas with buildings deemed significant to a city’s cultural history. They allow communities to preserve the richness of the past, while providing continuity for the present and future, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

There are 78 in Michigan, including ones in Cadillac, Grand Rapids, Holland, Manistee, Three Rivers and Traverse City, according to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
The law now allows a group of preservation activists appointed by local government to determine where historic districts are and to expand them with little input from  local property owners, said Mark Fisk, public relations consultant for bill sponsor Rep. Chris Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids.
“Some residents of historic districts have been frustrated because they don’t like being told what to do with their own property,” said Mike Coy the community development analyst for Cadillac.
Afendoulis and Sen. Peter MacGregor, R-Rockford, have introduced bills to update the law.
“This bill gives more equity for the average person to do what they want with their own property within the means of historic districts,” Afendoulis said.
The bill would give the people the power to decide what constitutes a historic district, Afendoulis said.
Proponents say the revisions will more clearly define boundaries and allow property owners to vote on changes to the requirements.
New districts would have to receive support from at least two-thirds of property owners within a proposed district under the revision.
Afendoulis says the bill elevates the level of property rights and raises the bar on creation of historic districts by having more community support.
The bill also would allowsproperty owners to appeal to local governing bodies about making modifications to their homes instead of appealing to state government.
However, there is opposition from historic preservationists.
“There is value in preserving historic districts,” said Jennifer Radcliff, a member of the Oakland County Historical Commission.
Historic districts provide economic development, she said, and there is a need for local control  that cannot be dismissed by lawmakers.

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