Afendoulis announces revised historic district proposals, continuing work with stakeholders

Editor’s Note: According to officials from the City of Grand Rapids, Rep. Chris Afendoulis is continuing to work with them to address concerns about the legislation below, after Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and the city council sent a letter to Afendoulis, Gov. Rick Snyder, and other bill sponsors asking for changes in the proposed bill, to avoid weakening the historic districts program.

On Wednesday, State Rep. Chris Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Township) announced key revisions to a bipartisan plan to modernize Michigan’s Historic Districts Act that would protect property owners and local control while allowing for historic preservation.  Afendoulis also said he is continuing to reach out to and work with interested stakeholders. The House Local Government Committee adopted the revisions unanimously, 10-0.

“Modernizing Michigan’s Historic Districts Act will protect property owners’ rights, local control and historic preservation – and the revisions announced today will strengthen our efforts,” Afendoulis said. “We have listened to input from many stakeholders, from home owners and businesses to historic preservation advocates. We included their ideas into our revised proposal, and we now look forward to continuing our work with many interested stakeholders to pass a law that balances property rights and local control with historic preservation in an accountable, transparent way.”

The revised House Bill 5232 give property owners a real voice in the creation of and character of the historic districts in which they live and do business. They also aim to promote greater local control.
Revisions to the legislation adopted today include:

—The proposals no longer require a vote of all residents of a municipality to approve a proposed district. In addition, the revised proposal eliminates the requirement for a renewal every 10 years for an existing historic district. This issue had generated great concern when the bill was first introduced.

—Two-thirds of property owners within an existing historic district must petition to eliminate an existing district, along with two-thirds of the local unit of government. This revision makes it more difficult to eliminate an existing district than current law. The same two-thirds threshold also applies to the creation of a new historic district.

—Local units of government will determine the character of their existing districts. For example: If a neighborhood wants to allow energy efficient windows that look historically appropriate but are constructed from modern materials that will save money, they can choose to do so under the updated proposals.

“For the first time, we have an opportunity to ensure that property owners have a real voice in what happens in their neighborhoods and communities,” said Rep. Jason Sheppard (R-Temperance), a main co-sponsor of the proposals. “These revised proposals make it less burdensome for historic preservation and will encourage investment in historic properties. We remain committed to historic preservation, and working with diverse stakeholders as we strive to better protect property owners and strengthen local control while allowing historic preservation.”

Under the proposals, property owners can appeal decisions made by local historic boards to their local units of government, such as city councils and township boards. They would not need to appeal decisions to Lansing, as required under current law.

To additionally ensure property owners’ voices are heard, the proposals also require that panels determining the creation of historic districts include property owners, construction experts and local elected officials, in addition to preservation experts. Current law requires only that the majority of these panels be made up of preservation advocates, and does not identify any other specific stakeholders.