By Chloe Kiple
Entirely East Lansing
EAST LANSING– Proposed state legislation could put East Lansing’s historic districts in jeopardy.
House Bill 5232 and Senate Bill 0270, which are currently on the floor of the Michigan legislature, propose to dissolve historic districts after ten years unless opposed by a 2/3 majority of property owners in the historic districts. The bill defined a historic district as any place with one or more resources related to history, architecture, archaeology or culture within its boundaries. East Lansing has six historic districts, Hillcrest Village, Chesterfield Hills, College Grove, Collegeville, Oakwood and Bailey.
Members of the East Lansing Historic District Commission and city council have publicly opposed this legislation for a multitude of reasons.
“It would be very burdensome to, every ten years, have to get the historic district reinstated and gain support,” said East Lansing Historic District Commission member Chuck Roboski.
East Lansing Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier said that if this legislation is passed, gaining supermajority of historic district property owners in favor of retaining historic districts is unlikely. She said that landlords account for more than 50 percent of the historic district property owners and retaining historic sites is not in their interest.
“They don’t have a lot of reasons to want history,” said Beier. “They want to knock down nice, old houses and put up cheap student rentals. It’s insulting and it’s not surprising. They do not miss a chance to earn a dollar.”
Additionally, the bill proposes to appoint a new local board to take inventory of local historic districts and assess its value. This board, called the Historic District Study Committee, can also propose boundaries of new historic districts. Minting a new historic district study committee will reduce the authority of the existing East Lansing Historic District Commission, according to a Feb. 16 letter from the Historic District Commission to members of city council.
Beier said that the bill’s proposal to form a new decision-making committee is a way to usurp the Historic District Commission’s power.
“The developers … want to create a new commission so that they can take over,” said Beier. “We [already] have people in the community who actually know what they’re doing,”
Historic District Commission members are trained in the federal guidelines surrounding historic district properties in order to make informed decisions. Properties in historic districts are governed by strict rules in order to maintain the historic integrity of the properties. According to Chesterfield historic district resident Mark Terry these rules are too strict. He said that they often deny property owners the right to renovate their homes to modern standards.
“I think that the architects that designed and built the houses that we call historic would roll over in their graves if they knew weren’t able to use modern energy saving materials to construct their homes.” Terry said.
East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows said that the city council will continue to oppose this legislation.
“We have communicated with our lobbyist downtown who has indicated to the sponsors of these bills that we are opposed to the passage of this legislation,” said Meadows. “We’ve asked the city attorney to … give his advice with regard to it, in particular to any alternatives that we may be able to present to the legislature.”
East Lansing landlords and the more than 23 state representatives in support of this legislation did not immediately return contact to make comments.