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Should Historic Districts Change? Why One Michigan Lawmaker Says Yes

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Preservationists are up in arms over a proposed rule change. A recently submitted bill meant to change how Michigan historic preservation districts work has attracted the attention (and ire) of preservationists in the state and across the nation. The Michigan Historic Preservation Network says the rule changes would jeopardize historic assets and introduce "inefficient processes undermine local representative democracy," another preservationist said it would "rig the game" against these districts, while others have taken the proposal as a jumping off point to question the effects of these districts. With a similar proposal being considered in Wisconsin, Curbed spoke with State Representative Chris Afendoulis, a co-sponsor of the bill, to understand the his view on how historic districts can be changed to better serve property owners.

As Curbed Detroit reported, the amendments, as first proposed, would take some of the power away from historic commissions and give it to local politicians and voters. Among other things, it would require potential districts to get a petition signed by two-thirds of the property owners in that district, require historic districts to be re-certified every decade, and create an appeals board with more local influences. Rep. Afendoulis, who represents a district in Grand Rapids that, as he is quick to point out, does not have any historic districts, says he's currently fine-tuning parts of the proposal after getting feedback from the initial presentation (for instance, he's working on the clause that would create a sunset clause for historic preservation districts). But the main focus of his proposal, to strengthen individual property owner's rights, won't change.

He's doing this for the average homeowner
"Some say I'm doing this for big developers, I'm really doing it for the average person in the neighborhood who wants more control over their property. I find at least in Michigan, and some people will disagree, that you can find you home added to a historic district without a lot of input.
Some people feel like they lose control over their own property. It's just difficult for an average homeowner to feel shut out from doing what they want to do."

He's a proponent of historic preservation in the right circumstances
"I grew up in the Grand Rapids area, and our big preservation district is Heritage Hill. It's clearly great for the city, but I have heard people, in some cases, say they are limited with what they can do with their home. Historic preservation was a response to urban renewal in the '60s and '70s. I remember in Grand Rapids when we lost the City Hall that was designed by Elijah Myers. I think it's tragic that those buildings are gone. I appreciate the efforts that came about in response to that."

Trying to introduce common sense into the system:
"I wanted to strike a balance. I'm trying to inject local opinion and have it not be a fait accompli when a historic preservation district is suggested. How often are preservationists going to say no? There should be checks and balances to historic preservation. There should also be some economic flexibility in terms of using alternate materials to fix homes in these districts if it fits the historic character. I don't want people to put up junk, but it should look good. I think historic renovation is great, but we should help the average guy out who wants to do restoration."

· Historic Districts Process Changed with Proposed Amendment [Curbed Detroit]
· Preservation Watch archives [Curbed]