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GRDadof3

Massive changes being proposed to Michigan's historic district laws

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There's a lot of hubbub around proposed legislation to change the Michigan Historic District law of 1970. 

http://www.hometownlife.com/story/news/local/canton/2016/01/28/michigan-lawmakers-laws-historic-districts/79361572/

Anyone want to dig through the bills and give us a snyops? x99? ;)

Link to the house bill:

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2015-2016/billintroduced/House/pdf/2016-HIB-5232.pdf

Senate bill:

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2015-2016/billintroduced/Senate/pdf/2016-SIB-0720.pdf

 

 

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1 hour ago, GRDadof3 said:

There's a lot of hubbub around proposed legislation to change the Michigan Historic District law of 1970. 

http://www.hometownlife.com/story/news/local/canton/2016/01/28/michigan-lawmakers-laws-historic-districts/79361572/

Anyone want to dig through the bills and give us a snyops? x99? ;)

Link to the house bill:

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2015-2016/billintroduced/House/pdf/2016-HIB-5232.pdf

Senate bill:

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2015-2016/billintroduced/Senate/pdf/2016-SIB-0720.pdf

 

 

Sounds like they want to take some power away from the preservation folks, and give more power to individual homeowners.   I suppose if a majority of homeowners don't want to have their neighborhood turned into a historic district they should have the ability to decide??   I for one am a big fan of historic district designation.  In recent years, I think it's had a big impact on areas like Wealthy Street, and Fairmount Square.

Edited by mpchicago

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I sent this letter to Sen. Hildenbrand yesterday:

I've been following the progress of SB 0720, and am extremely concerned about the negative effects it would have on our historic districts. The economic and societal benefits of these districts are very evident in Grand Rapids—Heritage Hill has some of the highest property values in city limits. Yet, its stability is being threatened under the guise of imposing "accountability" and "increasing the rights of property owners".

An article in Michigan Capitol Confidential quotes Rep. Afendoulis as saying, "Preserving aesthetic value was the key reason for having historical districts in the first place..." This shows a complete lack of understanding of the rationale and value for historic districts. Aesthetics is certainly a benefit, but it's far from the chief rationale—preserving heritage and increasing neighborhood stability are much more important.

These bills are not necessary, and impose a high burden on maintaining historic districts. The fact that the districts would automatically dissolve every decade without active efforts to renew them speaks to the motives of the bill's sponsors. If the objective is to "enhance local control", then the changes should focus on making districts easier to repeal—not harder to maintain. In addition, the bill's proponents' complaints regarding the actions of "some historic district commissions" speak to the sponsors' true motive to actually DECREASE local control by concentrating power in Lansing, away from local commissions appointed by elected leaders.

For the sake of stability and prosperity in our city, I urge you to oppose this legislation. Thank you for your time.

Best,
Chris Snyder
Resident of the City of Grand Rapids and the proud owner of a century-old house in Garfield Park

This isn't about "local control". This is about a few influential people in EGR trying to have undue influence over their neighbors. By my reading of SB-0720 (I haven't read the House version yet), it would require that each historic district be actively renewed every decade—otherwise, it would automatically expire. That makes historic districts much less desirable, limiting the motivation to invest by the owners in those districts.

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This is potentially devastating legislation for historic districts and landmarks statewide. Among the most egregious changes, this bill proposes to:

- Allow local governments to dissolve legal protections for historic districts or sites at will, without notice.

- Allow local historic commissions to ignore the Sec. of the Interior Preservation Standards, the thorough, time-tested national guidelines which govern the treatment of historic properties nationwide.

- Allow local governments to modify or overturn preservation commission decisions, at will.

- Require a 2/3 supermajority of property owners in an area to vote to even begin a study for a potential new or expanded historic district. This is an enormously high threshold, plus opens the potential for near total control by outside developers or institutions with the means to purchase the majority of properties in a neighborhood.

- Even after an affirmative 2/3 vote, and all studies and due process support the creation or expansion of a district, the bill would additionally require a majority vote from the entire municipality in order to proceed. For example, the entire City of GR would have to vote to approve designation for a small neighborhood miles away.

- Expire all historic site and district designations every 10 years (!!!). The same 2/3 supermajority/study/municipal vote process would have to be recreated every decade to maintain protection. If the hospital bought up your whole block for their next parking lot, you're out of luck - majority rules!

 

I think the origins of this are much larger than some disgruntled EGR folks who were offended by the suggestion of a historic district. This bill is moving through at lightning speed (the public had a single day's notice of the bill's introduction and committee assignment!) and it already has GOP co-sponsors from all around the state. 

 

More from MHPN: http://www.mhpn.org/?page_id=919

Edited by GRCentro
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WOW - Having the ability to overturn already established historic districts/sites is silly.  It's already hard enough to get historic districts/sites established, and they are proven to increase property values.  Glad to see the folks from Heritage Hill were in Lansing fighting this.

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I sometimes feel that historic district regulations are a bit onerous, but many of them have been around long enough now that people voluntarily choose to live in them, knowing (or should know) full well what the expectations are. 

I also agree that a 2/3's vote to establish a new one is a good idea, and I agree with x99's idea that they can be rescinded with 90% of the residents agreeing. It'd be pretty hard for a developer to buy up an entire historic district. Not even Amway could pull that off. 

I can't even imagine the Heritage Hill or Heartside District being done away with. 

Be sure to write to your legislators to let them know that you're against this bill, if you're against. 

 

 

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8 hours ago, mpchicago said:

Sounds like they want to take some power away from the preservation folks, and give more power to individual homeowners.   I suppose if a majority of homeowners don't want to have their neighborhood turned into a historic district they should have the ability to decide??   I for one am a big fan of historic district designation.  In recent years, I think it's had a big impact on areas like Wealthy Street, and Fairmount Square.

Something NEEDS to be done, or else cities like GR will become massive "historical" districts full of vintage 1977 ranch homes and historic 1991 duplexes.

A huge part of the city today can become an historic district right now just because old houses are everywhere!

While architecturally significant homes need to be preserved, and homes where actual historical events took place should be, it is today being abused (with good intentions) as a neighborhood improvement and renovation tool. It has saved E. Hills, but it was a matter of killing the goose in order to get the golden egg. You simply will not get away with that a 2nd time. Historic designation should be a process that is decided on a house-by-house basis (because many homes in these districs are not historically significant, and never will be). Only when actual experts are brought in to make an educated assessment, and only with some sort of compensation or tax credit awarded to those affected. It should not just a matter of seeing old homes, and not wanting to see anything new replace them or hoping to drive out trashy landlords, as legitimate as those goals are. It makes historical designation a backdoor way to 100% dictate home aesthetics under the guise of "the greater good".

People also need to have options to renovate their homes in a way that does not have to involve having to use insanely expensive material and high-priced craftspeople just to avoid being hounded. When you cant even replace your fence without having to get an all clear that it fits some historical period, then there is something really wrong about this situation. When you cant make your attic a usable space with better windows or a skylight, then you are no better off than someone living in colonial Williamsburg. You just aren't expected to wear costumes from 110 years ago.

And there should be more options for new homes to be constructed in the city if a home is not historically significant. EGR has continuous housing construction taking place all year. Old homes of little note make way for news ones, keeping the city looking newer than it otherwise would. When was the last time you saw a new home get built in the central part of GR that wasn't a Habitat home that was a boring replica of a house from 90 years ago?

Cities evolve. You cannot nail neighborhood after neighborhood to a certain time period just to prevent something contemporary from being built.

10 year designation (with an option to renew) is a good compromise, even with potential concerns that I have. I do think that Heritage Hill's designation needs to be set in stone, though. Cherry Hill, Heartside, Wealthy Street and Fairmount Sq. should have a sunset at some point, but with some negotiable standards that will please everyone.

 

If the historical district designation is the only thing keeping property values up, then there are bigger issues that need a different method to address them.

 

 

Edited by GR_Urbanist

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1 hour ago, GR_Urbanist said:

Something NEEDS to be done, or else cities like GR will become massive "historical" districts full of vintage 1977 ranch homes and historic 1991 duplexes.

A huge part of the city today can become an historic district right now just because old houses are everywhere!

While architecturally significant homes need to be preserved, and homes where actual historical events took place should be, it is today being abused (with good intentions) as a neighborhood improvement and renovation tool. It has saved E. Hills, but it was a matter of killing the goose in order to get the golden egg. You simply will not get away with that a 2nd time. Historic designation should be a process that is decided on a house-by-house basis (because many homes in these districs are not historically significant, and never will be). Only when actual experts are brought in to make an educated assessment, and only with some sort of compensation or tax credit awarded to those affected. Not a matter of seeing old homes, and not wanting to see anything new replace them or hoping to drive out trashy landlords, as legitimate as those goals are. It makes historical designation a backdoor way to dictate to home aesthetics under the guise of "the greater good".

People also need to have options to renovate their homes in a way that does not have to involve having to use insanely expensive material and high-priced craftspeople just to avoid being hounded. When you cant even replace your fence without having to get an all clear that it fits some historical period, then there is something really wrong about this situation. When you cant make your attic a usable space with better windows or a skylight, then you are no better off than someone living in colonial Williamsburg. You just aren't expected to wear costumes from 110 years ago.

And there should be more options for new homes to be constructed in the city if a home is not historically significant. EGR has continuous housing construction taking place all year. Old homes of little note make way for news ones, keeping the city looking newer than it otherwise would. When was the last time you saw a new home get built in the central part of GR that wasn't a Habitat home that was a boring replica of a house from 90 years ago?

Cities evolve. You cannot nail neighborhood after neighborhood to a certain time period just to prevent something contemporary from being built.

10 year designation (with an option to renew) is a good compromise, even with potential concerns that I have. I do think that Heritage Hill's designation needs to be set in stone, though. Cherry Hill, Heartside, Wealthy Street and Fairmount Sq. should have a sunset at some point, but with some negotiable standards that will please everyone.

 

If the historical district designation is the only thing keeping property values up, then there are bigger issues that need a different method to address them.

 

 

I wasn't aware that there was an epidemic of historical districts popping up everywhere in GR. Outside of the failed attempt in EGR were there other Historic Districts proposed in the last 10 years?  I'm honestly asking, not trying to sound snarky.

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2 hours ago, GR_Urbanist said:

10 year designation (with an option to renew) is a good compromise, even with potential concerns that I have. I do think that Heritage Hill's designation needs to be set in stone, though. Cherry Hill, Heartside, Wealthy Street and Fairmount Sq. should have a sunset at some point, but with some negotiable standards that will please everyone.

I don't favor the renewal provisions, which are extremely expensive and cumverson, but I do favor a clear procedure for delisting that leaves the decision to delist in the hands of a supermajority of the neighborhood residents with city/town/village council approval. That makes a lot more sense.  

There is a certain strain of "preservationist" who is little more than a hoarder.  They love 'em all.  Being about to distinguish what is and is not important, however, is an obligation of every preservationist, and the answer cannot and should not be, "every old house".  Unfortunately, that has often been the attitude, and it probably led (in part) to this bill.  Speaking of Wealthy, the designation for the houses in Wealthy Street on Freyling, Visser, etc. is humorous reading.  It features a quote from someone 100 years ago saying the houses were of poor quality and the planning terrible.  As I understand it, about 100 years later the City was finally going to tear all of these old hovels down, so the "hoarder" variety of preservationists swept in to save another era's trailer park.  The designation does not cite any particular architectural significance that that these houses have, because they have none.  More recently, a similar thing happened with that old farm house on Lake Michigan Drive.  It's a quaint old house, sure ... but architecturally is isn't that spectacular.  It's more about preserving a scrap of that "way of life".  Well, the old farm house is now surrounded on all sides, on a small little plot of land, facing a street with 50,000 cars a day.  The way of life is long gone, and what remains is an anachronism stripped of context.  The owner wanted to scrap it, and the preservationists swept into town again the wishes of the owner.  Did that lead to this?  Perhaps in part.

Assuming that there is not some developer/retailer force pushing this, those stories are important.  Actions like those I described degrade and diminish that which is actually important and worth saving, and in my view lead to backlash.   I don't know if this sort of overreach is what motivated this, but I have to suspect that it is, at least in part.  Unfortunately, the proposed cure is completely toxic, and threatens to undo what amount to architectural covenants and restrictions by legislative fiat.  People who bought into these neighborhoods relied upon restrictions, and at this point they are little different than a modern subdivision's architectural covenants.  Having a mechanism to potentially loosen those restrictions where appropriate on an aggregate basis might actually be welcome.   I don't have a problem, for example, with all of the homeowners in Wealthy District being able to agree to a looser set of standards for their houses which were not designated for any particular architectural significance.  Vinyl windows (and even vinyl siding) would not substantially affect the rationale for listing that district.  The district exists because it was built of the cheapest low quality materials possible.  Why not continue to use them?  In Heritage Hill, on the other hand, would be an issue.  Unfortunately, this bill does not give neighborhoods (who have already agreed to be restricted) the right to decide how they will be restricted.  Instead, this bill attempts to give individual property owners the right to violate the restrictions.   How many of the bill's sponsors live in modern developments with an HOA?  Would they like it if their neighbors could appeal to City Hall who could simply overrule their HOA covenants?  I doubt it.  But that is exactly what they are doing to us.

Edited by x99
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1 hour ago, GRJohn said:

I wasn't aware that there was an epidemic of historical districts popping up everywhere in GR. Outside of the failed attempt in EGR were there other Historic Districts proposed in the last 10 years?  I'm honestly asking, not trying to sound snarky.

Not an epidemic, but they have expanded from just Heritage Hill, and now includes Cherry Hill, Fairmount Square, and Wealthy Street. Obviously at some point it will likely also stretch down Lake Drive and include Wilcox Park, Eastown, Ottawa Hills, and it will only logically pop up in other parts of town like Creston Heights, around Houseman field, parts of the west side,  Belknap Lookout hill, and many areas on the SE side of town.

And because all homes are ageing all the time, we will have to logically look at the prospect of the next 30-40 years of homes made in the 50s through 70s being seen as historic just like the ugly buildings of the 60s urban renewal are now giving people warm feelings that will leave many of them as "too historic to fall".

 

Before all of this happens, and all heck breaks loose, there needs to be at least some better guidelines.

Edited by GR_Urbanist

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6 hours ago, GRDadof3 said:

I also agree that a 2/3's vote to establish a new one is a good idea, and I agree with x99's idea that they can be rescinded with 90% of the residents agreeing. It'd be pretty hard for a developer to buy up an entire historic district. Not even Amway could pull that off. 

I can't even imagine the Heritage Hill or Heartside District being done away with. 

 

In Grand Rapids we are accustomed to very large historic districts. Heritage Hill and Heartside are enormous compared to most. Many districts in other communities are only a few blocks long. It isn't difficult to imagine a majority takeover there. Preservationists all around the state are pissed and terrified by this bill.

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7 hours ago, GR_Urbanist said:

Historic designation should be a process that is decided on a house-by-house basis (because many homes in these districs are not historically significant, and never will be).

Only when actual experts are brought in to make an educated assessment, and only with some sort of compensation or tax credit awarded to those affected. 

People also need to have options to renovate their homes in a way that does not have to involve having to use insanely expensive material and high-priced craftspeople just to avoid being hounded. 

And there should be more options for new homes to be constructed in the city if a home is not historically significant. 

Cities evolve. You cannot nail neighborhood after neighborhood to a certain time period just to prevent something contemporary from being built.

10 year designation (with an option to renew) is a good compromise, even with potential concerns that I have.

Historic district designation is more than simply the combined architectural merits of individual structures. Unique patterns of use, density, scale, spatial relationships between structures, setbacks, etc. all make up the value of historic districts as a cultural resource. Even architecturally insignificant houses, say, for example, an aluminum-clad home among ornate Queen Annes, should be protected from demolition or insensitive additions in order to maintain a characteristic streetscape. Furthermore, comprehensive and appropriate restoration is often possible, even for homes that presently have an appearance that doesn't seem very significant. To deny those houses protection virtually guarantees that they will never be restored. Decisions made on a "house-by-house" are not really helpful to preserve an area's historic fabric. Though, it is worth recognizing that preservation does not advocate a one-size-fits-all approach and individual applications of appropriateness are always considered on a case-by-case basis in every district.

"Actual experts" are involved in every potential district study. The current process absolutely requires it. And in Michigan, tax credit for work in historic districts was very generous before the State Congress axed most of the programs.

In my experience with preservation, locally and elsewhere, homeowners have many options for repair and renovation within the established guidelines. Nearly all preservation commissions use the Secretary of the Interior's Guidelines for Rehabilitation, the most flexible of the four treatments of historic properties. Wholesale destruction of historic materials is not tolerated, of course, but deviations from the guidelines that already existed prior to a district's establishment are always grandfathered in.

Regarding new home construction, the options are even more generous. Three have been built in Heritage Hill within the last two years and one more is in the works. There are no abandoned residential structures in the district and barely a vacant lot which hasn't already been built upon. By every metric, the current preservation system works well.

The biggest problem with an automatic 10 year sunset on historic districts is that it provides no incentive for absentee landlords, outside developers or unscrupulous builders to pursue appropriate and needed maintenance. Why would they invest in good-quality material and craftsmanship or bother to find long-term building solutions if in a few years the district's historic protections could be eroded and, potentially, the building demolished? A few cycles of deferred maintenance and cheap repairs will mean that many historic features will be damaged beyond repair. Soon enough, people will longer see enough they feel is worthy of protection and come voting time ("actual experts" not included), bye-bye historic district. A self-fulfilling fallacy. 

4 hours ago, GR_Urbanist said:

Before all of this happens, and all heck breaks loose, there needs to be at least some better guidelines.

I can't quite picture what all preservation heck breaking loose would look like, but the Secretary of the Interior's Guidelines already exist and, in general, work really, really well in application.

Edited by GRCentro

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Like x99 mentioned, which is a good point, most of the city is not set up in HOA's (like many suburban neighborhoods have been set up), which historic districts help provide. I can tell you that neighborhoods with HOA's have substantially higher appreciation than neighborhoods that do not. People like to complain about HOA's but they definitely help preserve property values. Having lived in both types of neighborhoods, I will never live in a neighborhood again where people can basically do anything they want on their property (short of breaking criminal laws). 

With that being said, like any kind of regulations, there are many people who abuse that power and situations where these preservationists overstep their bounds. 

There's been a lot of talk about historic preservation on UrbanPlanet over the last year or so. Makes me wonder if Chris Afendoulis, the sponsor of this bill, has read any of those discussions. 

 

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As long as the HPC can block the redevelopment of the city/county buildings, because it deems a characterless suburban box a precious piece of history, I will be all for the limiting of it's oversight.  Unless they add a little common sense to their biblically epic charter than not even God could deviate from.  Since as we all know Vandenberg Center is the only place in the city, county, metropolitan area, and state where we have an example of a cubic rectangle containing offices, and built in the 60's.

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7 hours ago, MJLO said:

As long as the HPC can block the redevelopment of the city/county buildings, because it deems a characterless suburban box a precious piece of history, I will be all for the limiting of it's oversight.  Unless they add a little common sense to their biblically epic charter than not even God could deviate from.  Since as we all know Vandenberg Center is the only place in the city, county, metropolitan area, and state where we have an example of a cubic rectangle containing offices, and built in the 60's.

Neither Vandenberg Plaza nor any buildings around it are historic districts or landmarks. HPC has zero oversight into its development.

It seems to be unfortunately common, but I fear that many people, here on UP and elsewhere, are confused about what HPC actually does and what tools are really employed in local preservation. Although anyone can be a "preservationist", there is a difference between the appointed body of HPC, whose actions bound by local and state law, and passionate individual citizens who rally behind the causes of their choosing.

Edited by GRCentro
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38 minutes ago, GRCentro said:

Neither Vandenberg Plaza nor any buildings around it are historic districts or landmarks. HPC has zero oversight into its development.

It seems to be unfortunately common, but I fear that many people, here on UP and elsewhere, are confused about what HPC actually does and what tools are really employed in local preservation. Although anyone can be a "preservationist", there is a difference between the appointed body of HPC, whose actions bound by local and state law, and passionate individual citizens who rally behind the causes of their choosing.

Ok please correct my memory. About 12-13 years ago Jack Buchanan wanted to purchase the city/county complex and turn it into a hotel connected to Devos Place.  Outside of the fact that it was Jack Buchanan and his creative financing that was a complete joke to begin with. The city was willing to play ball, but the HPC said the city-county complex could not be torn down because it was the "best example of architecture from that era". 

I agree that every building in that plaza has ZERO historical value.  Even the famous architecture firm who built it (SOM) said those buildings were designed to be expendable during that debate.  I'm not going to argue that my memory of events could be skewed,  but I remember a distinct conversation about it on here.   So can someone please correct me if they have zero oversight over those buildings? 

I don't think I am confused about what the HPC does.  I get the important function they play especially after the shortsighted urban renewal of the 60s.  They simply interpret their charter literally, and when doing so have the power to preserve suburban buildings that are in Vandenberg center creating a pedestrian and entertainment dead zone.  My problem is the seeming lack of common sense in their application of their charter in some instances, and the fact that they have more power than the city in those decisions.

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I'm torn about this. On the one hand, I think that City Hall and nearby buildings are lacking in architectural interest; I don't think I would miss them. However, those same sorts of arguments were used in the 60's when a number of gems were demolished. What demolitions will our [grand]children resent in 50 years?

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30 minutes ago, organsnyder said:

I'm torn about this. On the one hand, I think that City Hall and nearby buildings are lacking in architectural interest; I don't think I would miss them. However, those same sorts of arguments were used in the 60's when a number of gems were demolished. What demolitions will our [grand]children resent in 50 years?

I don't think this legislation is aimed at individual buildings that are deemed historical or seek historic designation. I think it only affects historic districts or neighborhoods.

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I don't think this legislation is aimed at individual buildings that are deemed historical or seek historic designation. I think it only affects historic districts or neighborhoods.

I was told the legislation would affect individual historic sites and districts equally, unfortunately.

1 hour ago, MJLO said:

Ok please correct my memory. About 12-13 years ago Jack Buchanan wanted to purchase the city/county complex and turn it into a hotel connected to Devos Place.  Outside of the fact that it was Jack Buchanan and his creative financing that was a complete joke to begin with. The city was willing to play ball, but the HPC said the city-county complex could not be torn down because it was the "best example of architecture from that era". 

I agree that every building in that plaza has ZERO historical value.  Even the famous architecture firm who built it (SOM) said those buildings were designed to be expendable during that debate.  I'm not going to argue that my memory of events could be skewed,  but I remember a distinct conversation about it on here.   So can someone please correct me if they have zero oversight over those buildings? 

It was a citizen-led effort to argue against demolition. HPC may have been consulted for an opinion, but it never had legal consequence. The project failed for reasons other than preservation.

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1 hour ago, GRCentro said:

I was told the legislation would affect individual historic sites and districts equally, unfortunately.

It was a citizen-led effort to argue against demolition. HPC may have been consulted for an opinion, but it never had legal consequence. The project failed for reasons other than preservation.

Wow, what knuckleheads thought up this legislation? I'm going to go out on a limb and guess tea-partiers. So-called "small government" types? 

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17 minutes ago, GRDadof3 said:

Wow, what knuckleheads thought up this legislation? I'm going to go out on a limb and guess tea-partiers. So-called "small government" types? 

That's how it sounds to me. These people somehow have the cognitive dissonance to say "enhance local control" while criticizing the actions of "some historic district commissions" in the same article. How is Lansing putting a straightjacket on local boards at all a move toward greater local control?

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Neighborhood Continuity Vs Choice. If you want nothing to change, than ok, lets build more of the same!

image[13].png

dubai.jpg

Edited by crinzema

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10 hours ago, crinzema said:

Neighborhood Continuity Vs Choice. If you want nothing to change, than ok, lets build more of the same!

image[13].png

dubai.jpg

 

That is fugly. 

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On 1/31/2016 at 2:28 AM, crinzema said:

Neighborhood Continuity Vs Choice. If you want nothing to change, than ok, lets build more of the same!

image[13].png

Is this how you see Heritage Hill?  

 

 

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