The Farmington local historic district, denoted in green in the map below, encompasses a triangular-shaped area bounded by Shiawassee, Warner, and Grand River.
Many of the houses in the district are at least 100 years old.
A supplemental historic district (shown on the map in blue) was established for the 1837 house at 32604 Grand River.
Interestingly, the area west of Grand River on Oakland Street, filled with early-20th-century homes, is not included in the district.
FORMING THE DISTRICT
The Farmington historic district was established in 1973.
In 1970, the state of Michigan passed Public Act 169, the Local Historic Districts Act. This came on the heels of the federal-level National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.
Within two years, the city of Farmington started discussions to establish a local historic district. As is often the case when new rules are suggested, homeowners in the proposed district were concerned about how the proposed ordinance would affect them–especially as stated in a Farmington Enterprise & Observer article from September 16, 1972, which read, “If the ordinance is adopted, it will severely limit the changes that can be made to buildings in the district.”
It was an indication of things to come. The final ordinance passed was a “toothless” ordinance, giving no binding review to the historical commission established by the ordinance.
THE HISTORIC DISTRICT TODAY
The Farmington Historical Commission, tasked with preserving the heritage of the city of Farmington through its historic structures, has no real tools to do so.
Currently, historic district homeowners who wish to make changes to the exterior of their homes are required to present the Historical Commission with their plans. The Historical Commission then reviews them to see if the proposed renovations would fit with that style of house, and passes their recommendations on to both the homeowner and the Planning Commission.
However, the Historical Commission remains a strictly advisory board. Their recommendations are just that–advice–rather than being legally binding. As such, their recommendations to the Planning Commission have been largely ignored, causing a backward slide in the quality of our historic district.
In 2013, the Historical Commission adopted the national standards established by the federal government in 1977. These standards, named the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, are used throughout the United States by historic district commissions and for federal projects. Some decision-makers in our local government, however, find these standards to be too strict.
Both the Farmington Historical Commission and Preservation Farmington have expressed interest in inventorying historic homes in the city of Farmington from the period of 1824 to 1944 throughout the city. The goal of the study would be to analyze areas for expansion of the historic district and to create a record of Farmington’s historic structures. Eventually, all structures over 50 years of age–the standard for being considered historic–will be inventoried and studied.
One of Preservation Farmington’s long-term goals is bringing about an ordinance that truly protects this architecture, so central to the city’s identity as a historic community.