Good news! As of April 26, the House Committee on Local Government has tossed out HB 5232, the bill to stamp out historic districts across the state of Michigan.
Representative Chatfield, the committee chair, has confirmed in a letter to constituents that although he worked “exceedingly hard to strike a balance with this legislation…I have been unable to adequately satisfy many of the concerns of my constituents.” He has decided to “indefinitely suspend consideration of HB 5232 and the conversation of reform to the Michigan Historic Preservation Act.”
There’s still a chance that the bill may be reassigned to another committee, and we’ll have to start the process all over again. But even if that does happen, this is a huge victory for historic preservation in our state. And we owe a huge thank you to all who signed petitions, sent emails, wrote letters and editorials, spoke at hearings, and lobbied our legislators for the cause of historic preservation in the state we call home.
Michigan’s heritage is under threat.
It started on January 26, when House Bill 5232 and the identical Senate Bill 720 were introduced into the Michigan legislature by Representative Chris Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids) and Senator Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford).
At first glance, the bill’s nickname—Historic District Modernization Act—seems innocent enough. Currently, Michigan historic districts operate under Public Act 169 of 1970, the Local Historic Districts Act. According to Afendoulis, the new legislation would “modernize a law written 45 years ago [that] strikes the right balance between protecting private property owners’ rights and historic preservation.” He also claims that it “will help many communities maintain their historic identity while ensuring private property owners have a greater voice.”
That’s not the whole story.
If passed, the proposed amendment to PA 169 (House Bill 5232 and Senate Bill 720) will dramatically change how historic districts are created and maintained in Michigan—and spell a virtual death warrant for historic districts across the entire state.
You can read the entire text of the original bill here, and the substitute bill (accepted 2/24 by the House Committee on Local Government) here. Currently, the bill is in its sixth draft, although that version has not yet been introduced into committee.
Michigan Historic Preservation Network has a great analysis of the changes the bill would create and the issues it raises; you can read it here.
WHAT THIS MEANS
Across the state, city councils are passing resolutions in protest. Historic district commissions and history organizations are crying foul.
In its original form, the bill included provisions to automatically dissolve all historic districts in Michigan (current and future) every 10 years, unless re-approved in a general election. It also required a petition signed by two-thirds of property owners in the historic district before the issue could even be put to vote. And while it threw up barrier after barrier to creating a historic district, it allowed local government to dissolve a district on a moment’s notice–without input from homeowners, area residents, historic district commissions, or the community at large.
Those sections have been removed over the course of the second and third drafts, largely due to enormous pushback on the part of the historic preservation community, Michigan municipalities, organizations and nonprofits, and citizens concerned over the future of our state’s legacy.
But the language that remains, while less threatening than before, is still cause for concern.
- It throws away the expertise of historic district commissions and dismisses nationally recognized guidelines that govern the upkeep of historic resources.
Historic district commissions’ decisions could now be based on unspecified guidelines, claimed to be “in the best interest of the community,” instead of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. Adopting arbitrary rules is not a reliable choice for protecting historic resources, and it undermines the credibility of historic district commissions, too.
- It’s misleading.
The bill retains vague, prejudicial language about “historically accurate rehabilitations costing more” than average work. That’s not always the case. As a matter of fact, some historically accurate repairs–like fixing wooden windows, rather than putting in vinyl replacements–have been proven to be the better investment.
- It politicizes the appeals process.
Appeals would be made to local elected officials, who may lack background in historical appropriateness and could be swayed by local politics or local development pressures, instead of to experts at the non-partisan State Historic Preservation Review Board.
In short, the bill hopes to take away as much credibility from historic districts as possible, and make them too weak to truly protect Michigan’s historic resources in years to come.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
If you’d rather to see decisions made by experts, not politicians…
If you believe in standing up for the entire community, instead of letting a handful of individuals, developers, and politicians run roughshod over the best interests of the majority…
If you believe that this legislation would be culturally and economically devastating to the state of Michigan…
PLEASE WRITE TO OUR LEGISLATORS and ask them to vote NO on HB 5232 and SB 720–either in their original form, or as amended. Let them know you oppose these measures outright.
To make it easier, we’ve created a petition that automatically sends your message (we’ve included a sample that you can customize) to every state rep and state senator in Lansing, plus Governor Snyder. Sign it today and let them know your concern!
Need some inspiration? We’re maintaining an updated list of all the news coverage supporting the issue.
You can also share the call to action on social media, using the hashtag #SaveYour HD, to encourage others to write in as well.
It’s up to us to let our elected officials know our opinions on the subject before it comes up for a vote. Hearing from just 8 or 10 constituents can have a big impact on legislators, and sending a message only takes about 10 minutes of your time.
Every email, every phone call, every voice counts.