Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

What to Do about Historic Preservation?

14. November 2006 • Dale Winling
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Sloooooowly.....Unless you’re drinking beer with bloggers on Thursday, residents interested in the ongoing saga of the Calthorpe Process might come to two public meetings on proposed changes to the Historic Preservation chapter of Ann Arbor’s zoning city code (chapter 103 to HP dorks).

Meeting 1: Thursday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. City Council chambers (City Hall)

Meeting 2: Tuesday Nov. 28 at 7 p.m.. Bach Elementary School (600 W. Jefferson across from the Jefferson Market)

From a notice:

WHY: The public meetings will explain the proposed changes for Chapter 103, how it will affect the community and provide opportunities to comment on the draft ordinance.

Consultant to the city and immediate past president of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, Kristine Kidorf, will conduct the meetings. Chapter 103, in its current form, needs to be updated. Revision would bring more consistency to protecting Ann Arbor’s designated historic resources. This issue is especially of interest to property owners, residents and business owners in Ann Arbor’s 13 historic districts. There are currently 1,662 historic properties in the city.

  1. Unfortunately, the first meeting not only overlaps with Beer with Bloggers, but also with the Urban Design Guidelines Public Lecture Series: another presentation of interest to those who were involved with the Calthorpe process.

    Thursday’s lecture is titled: Design Guidelines: Process, Methods and Outcomes. “This seminar will be a presentation by representatives from cities similar to Ann Arbor that use Design Guidelines. Representatives will be here to discuss their use of the guidelines, how they are working, detailing successes and failures. The presentation will included a panel discussion between the participants.”
    Thursday from 7:00pm to 9:00pm in the Courthouse Square Ballroom.

       —Juliew    Nov. 14 '06 - 10:38PM    #
  2. Everytime I see shot of the old train depot I’m like, “yes! blogger meet up right here in town!” and then I remember that Frenchie’s is way over in Ypsi, and unfortunately I can’t get away from things that long. See everyone at the next meet-up.

       —AHFB    Nov. 15 '06 - 11:07AM    #
  3. As a commission member of the HDC in Ypsilanti, I encourage all who can attend to get a better sense of the importance of having a thoroughly enforceable and uniform Historic District Ordinance. Design Guidelines are a whole other issue. The “standards” set by the Secretary of the Interior are flexible and yet comprehensive. Most design guidelines I have seen or read about argue what I feel are really matters of preference, taste, architectural license and come across as being too restrictive to property owners. Having a “strict constructionist” on the Board is one thing, but setting up color palettes or limiting renovations to solid wood windows, for instance, goes too far, in my opinion. Having a builder or someone familiar with building technologies on the Board is also very helpful.

    Anyhow, go to the session if you have the time, or read about these issues and help Ann Arbor save what it has left in its lovely neighborhoods, as well as on campus.

       —E. G. Penet    Nov. 16 '06 - 06:22AM    #
  4. The draft document which is a PDF generated from a ‘track-changes’ view from MS Word. Red-lined material still present, new material in blue and unchanged in black. I won’t try to replicate that here.

    It looks like it leaves the language specific to the individual districts intact, so I’m not quite clear how the Calthorpe call for uniformity is reflected in this draft.

    The redaction in the section outlining the duties of the HDC seems to significantly reduce the powers of the HDC: There’s a section that currently reads:

    “To hold public hearings and to review applications for construction, alteration, removal, or demolition affecting proposed or designated property or structures within historic districts and issue or deny certificates of appropriateness for such actions. Applicants may be required to submit plans, drawings, elevations, specifications, and other information as may be necessary for the commission to make decisions”

    Proposed revision is: “If requested, to review the Ann Arbor zoning ordinance and recommend to the planning commission and the city council any amendments appropriate for the protection and continued use of historically and architecturally significant property, structures, and areas;”

    Sometimes the in-line comparison with the red, blue and black makes things more confusing than transparent, so the authority to hold public hearings and issue certificates of appropriateness relating to a project might still be preserved elsewhere. I don’t have the expertise to assess that.

    But wasn’t this the section that ulitmately gave the HDC the authority to block the Glen Ann project after it had won approval from planning commission and council?

       —HD    Nov. 16 '06 - 07:42AM    #
  5. The HDC is given the authority by the state directly to govern development in historic districts. The city cannot take this power away because they never had it (unless they were going to do away with historic districts).

    State info pertinent to Local Historic District Act of 1970

    I do think people interested in preservation in town should take a close look at these changes.

       —Dale    Nov. 16 '06 - 08:28AM    #
  6. a friend of mine has a new show on the Ann Arbor area’s own internet radio network, a3 radio. The show is called Notes from the Motherboard and features some local and rare music. here’s the link to the page where you can listen anytime you want.

    His show is at the bottom left. Cheers!

       —Jay    Nov. 17 '06 - 03:49AM    #
  7. Meeting report

    The basic theme: revisions to Ann Arbor’s local language is driven by a desire to comply with state guidelines about how this language is supposed to look.


    (1) Confirmation that Dale’s right about the HDC’s inherent power. Stricken language in one place about certificates of appropriateness is baked-in goodness elsewhere.

    (2) Calthorpian calls for uniformity are indeed implemented across all individual districts. A specific example: OWS is currently a ‘street-scape’ district with the front 15-feet subject to HDC rules; revising to comply with state guidelines means it’s the whole property.

    Even more specific detail:

    In the future, OWS residents would need to seek approval for any construction in the backyard of a home in the OWS ... landscaping even … playground equipment and the like …

       —HD    Nov. 17 '06 - 06:19AM    #
  8. This drive toward uniformity and “compliance” with state guidelines is purportedly because of a memo the state office sent to the locals last spring. But the state office sends out this periodically, and it has been ignored in the past because it is not legally binding (as the memo itself states).

    Now the memo is being used as a pretext to make big changes in local districts. The proposed language regulating construction in back yards is one example.

       —David Cahill    Nov. 18 '06 - 10:49PM    #
  9. Now the memo is being used as a pretext to make big changes in local districts. The proposed language regulating construction in back yards is one example.

    David, in the past you’ve seemed to object to review of Ann Arbor’s HDC on the grounds that preservation would be weakened or deprioritized. This cited change would seem to significantly increase the Commission’s powers. (And, I’d think, would also make things easier to administer – who wants to break out the tape measure every time a possible enforcement issue comes up?)

    Are there changes you see proposed that bear out your previous fear that preservation would be weakened?

       —Murph.    Nov. 19 '06 - 12:42AM    #
  10. “And, I’d think, would also make things easier to administer – who wants to break out the tape measure every time a possible enforcement issue comes up?”

    Isn’t ‘easier’ is partly defined by the sheer number of cases to be reviewed—whether at the staff level or by presentation to the HDC at a monthly meeting? The proposed changes to the ordinance have the potential to increase the number of cases to be reviewed (perhaps dramatically … it’s an empirical question as to how many additional cases would have to be submitted for review), hence increase the administrative burden.

    I think the ‘administrative ease’ argument confuses what it means to have a slightly more complex algorithm (Is the property in the OWS? No? Oh, then don’t apply the 15-foot streetscape rule. Yes? Oh, then do apply the 15-foot streetscape rule) with increased administrative burden. Seriously, what are we talking about here, maintaining cases in separate file folders? It’s got to be more than that surely?

    In sum, I think the ‘administrative ease’ argument needs to be articulated in more detail to be persuasive. Specifically, such an argument needs to take account of the brute fact that an increased number of cases requiring review inherently increases the administrative burden in a measurable way.

       —HD    Nov. 19 '06 - 06:21AM    #
  11. I could never see the problem with keeping things in separate file folders. That’s one reason I distrusted the Calthorpe recommendation for more uniformity. Plus, the Calthorpe report’s section on historic preservation showed significant misunderstandings about the goals of historic districts, and would make the replacement of some buildings easier.

    As I posted earlier, last summer Bob Johnson told me that the revision of the historic districts was driven by Roger Fraser’s desire to stimulate development in historic districts.

    The “backyard rule” being proposed would do two things: (1) it would set off a firestorm of opposition, since people think their backyards do not need regulation and are not “historic”; (2) it would make the creation of new historic districts impossible.

       —David Cahill    Nov. 19 '06 - 07:05PM    #
  12. There are elements of the “backyard rule” I don’t understand yet, but perhaps someone who’s read the rules can explain. My sense is that an awful lot of what’s IN OWS backyards isn’t remotely “original”—lots of garages, sheds, treehouses and other things beginning with the letter t. What would it mean if people wanted to do work on, say, a shed that was actually erected in 1973? Fences would also come into this category more often than not, I’d think. It seems like a lot of new cases, as HD says, but also just some weird judgments—your treehouse should look as if it were built at the same time as the house? Fake Victorian basketball hoops?

       —Aki    Nov. 19 '06 - 08:21PM    #
  13. David, you mean “allow” or “facilitate.”

       —Dale    Nov. 19 '06 - 08:53PM    #
  14. Have I mentioned the “historic birdbath” issue?

    L-o-n-g ago, when the City had not yet created the Individual Historic Properties Historic district of late lamented memory, I had a talk with Louisa Pieper about what it would mean.

    I said we had a really old birdbath on our property. I asked her if this would be considered a “historic birdbath” subject to historic district rules on replacment?

    Louisa laughed.

    I bet she isn’t laughing now.

       —David Cahill    Nov. 19 '06 - 11:01PM    #
  15. It is no great secret that the Ann Arbor Historic Districts are far more lax than other historic districts around the state and country. It is my understanding that because the Old West Side was the first neighborhood historic district, they have been grandfathered in to be able to use the historic preservation designations of the time. In the ensuing years, thoughts on historic preservation and what is really workable for historic preservation for a neighborhood have changed. As it was explained to me by the representative from the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, historic preservation is not about preserving the look of an old structure, but actually about preserving the materials of the structure itself. If it was just about the look, there would be no difference between the Old West Side and a New Urbanist subdivision like Cherry Hill Village. True historic preservation includes the entire structure, not just the first 15 feet. This 15 foot rule has been horrible for many of the “historic” houses on the Old West Side where owners have come in and demolished everything in back of the 15 foot line, added enormous additions and gutted the insides so that the only historical detail left is literally the front façade. Not at all in the spirit of true historic preservation.

    I can not see a historic district wanting to control backyards or swingset styles, but any historic structures in a backyard are part of the historic fabric of a neighborhood. Garages, outbuildings, sheds, fences, driveways and so on can tell as much about a neighborhood as do the houses. As for designing new structures to be fake old structures, every preservationist I have ever talked to prefers any additions to a historic neighborhood to be of the time they are constructed—faux historic is not at all desired.

    Living in a historic district is great, but there are responsibilities that go along with the rewards. I think the local historic districts should be in line with the state and national regulations and actually preserve our historic structures, not just the pretty facades.

       —Juliew    Nov. 20 '06 - 05:18AM    #
  16. Here’s one preservationist who disagrees with every other preservationist you’ve ever talked to, Julie.

    And I say, “it depends.” I wouldn’t preclude a homeowner from, say, hiring the same architect or builder at the end of his career for an addition in the same style as the house he designed or built at the beginning of his career. The idea of “fake historic” of course assumes that there are styles authentic to a period and those that are not, which is utterly facile. I don’t want to count how many classical revivals we’ve gone through.

    The Old West Side (I’m particularly speaking of the association founders, Roy Johnson and Chet LaMore, whose correspondence I have read) argued that what was special about the OWS and what really needed to be preserved was the relationship of structures to the street. Additions and even replacements of a similar scale were fine.

    What is particularly notable about this is that the Old West Side historic district was nearly the first (if not the first) district to be listed on the National Register because of this characteristic streetscape and development pattern, not the merits of individual structures.

    I have half a mind to write a book advocating a new theory of preservation, which is really the OLD theory of preservation (like Jane Jacobs advocated for Washington Square). Something should be preserved because it is more fully and appropriately fulfills community values than what would replace it, not because it is old, or because of a nebulous connection to heritage. There are numerous sites and districts in Ann Arbor that preservationists glorify that, in fact, replaced structures that were even older, more quaint, and had greater “heritage” than what replaced them, like the buildings on Main St – testaments to the creative destruction of capitalism that replaced the buildings of the city’s founders.

    So I’d say that there are community costs to historic districts as well as rewards, and in Ann Arbor, they have become significant.

       —Dale    Nov. 20 '06 - 10:04AM    #
  17. Julie, can you give examples of the Potemkin village effect you see as having actually happened in the OWS? And are you seriously proposing that in future OWS homeowners should also have to get approval for interior changes to be sure they’re not “gutting the insides”?

    I’m actually strongly in favor of the historic district and would resist weakening the rules in any way, but I’m taken aback by the kind of hardening of limits that seems to be on the table. For instance, you say “ any historic structures in a backyard are part of the historic fabric of a neighborhood. Garages, outbuildings, sheds, fences, driveways and so on can tell as much about a neighborhood as do the houses,” is true but my point is that most of those things in the OWS—and this is probably true in the other districts too, it’s just this is the one I walk thru— are only “historic structures” in the sense that everything happens in history sometime. They have often been built at later, even much later dates. If the treehouse is from 1920, fine, but if it’s from 1987, what happens? It should be assessed for its conformity with 1987 styles of treehouse architecture when the owner wants to shore up the roof? If so, and the idea is to preserve the materials and the look as of the moment of creation, then a whole lot of historical expertise is going to need to be on tap to ensure that every change or repair or replacement of anything existing conforms to its moment of creation, whether than was 1889 or 1953, and the “preservation” of the historic fabric of a chain link fence built last week becomes a responsibility for future owners, whether or not they’ve got a dog. If not, you ARE talking about “faux historic” if you want it to look like its been there since 1920. I agree with you about not just making things look quaint—and some of the occasional stupid decisions from the Historical Commission seem to me to have come from focusing on that kind of thing—but I just don’t see how it can make sense to regulate all exterior structures, whenever created, without producing that effect. It also seems insanely overbureaucratic to make owners submit applications for exemption from review if they can prove that, really, the fence was built in 1970.

    This really seems silly to me unless there’s a lot more evidence of problems than I think there is.

       —Aki    Nov. 20 '06 - 06:14PM    #
  18. Here’s one preservationist who disagrees with every other preservationist you’ve ever talked to, Julie.

    Hmm, I actually think we might be talking about the same thing Dale. Massing and scale and relationship to the street are very important, which is why an entire structure and the relationship it has to, say the front or back yard, should be part of a historic designation. However, my point (and the point of the people I talk to) is that if you are building an addition today onto a house that was built in the 1800s, the addition shouldn’t be faux-1890, rather it should be built in a 2006 style (hopefully complementary to the original). Are you saying that you would prefer that any new building or additions be built to look just like the older buildings?

    Aki, here are my two favorite examples:
    House on Mulholland
    House on Seventh

       —Juliew    Nov. 20 '06 - 08:03PM    #
  19. I don’t take a categorical stance; I would give broad discretion in design and style to the owner (within the OWS’s streetscape requirements). If they wanted to make it look exactly like or as near to the original as possible, that’s fine with me. If a house were dilapidated and had to be replaced, it would also be fine by me if the owner replicated an historicist design.

    This is one of those conventions that has arisen within preservation/architecture for no reason; the giving of discretion to designers to have contrasting designs has hardened into an overwhelming preference (becoming almost a requirement) to have a differing style.

       —Dale    Nov. 20 '06 - 08:28PM    #
  20. Thanks, Julie—that clarifies things for me. I do see what you mean about those house additions, though I’d have thought there would be issues having to do with general planning rather than the historic designation per se (not that I really know anything about either set of rules in detail). I’d also like to see the finished result, including how landscaping might make a difference. But I don’t see lots of this sort of thing going on. I do think we’re all on the same page about scale and design being issues, but a commodious rule that everything in addition to the original house (not just additions but the whole lot’s contents) having to be approved would set off a lot of problems, I think. I certainly wouldn’t want interior changes to be on the table either—changes in the room arrangements within original houses are okay with me, given that I’ve seen plenty of very sensible changes to combine small rooms or reshape flow from entries or open up the bathroom/bedroom relationship. But I don’t hear any of us saying Go Faux or Go Anti-Faux across the board.

       —Aki    Nov. 20 '06 - 09:37PM    #
  21. I should note that my opinion on new construction may differ from interpretations of #9 of the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, but that, of course, is what the argument is about:

    New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment.

    It is up for interpretation how to construe “differentiated.” The standard, in my mind, does not preclude rebuilding in the exact same style, but with different trim detailing (still historical), or using similar materials but different colors. However, it does not require building in a “2006 style,” which would be impossible since there is no such thing.

       —Dale    Nov. 20 '06 - 09:59PM    #
  22. Aki –

    HDCs should generally be following the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. These include,

    #3. Don’t imitate earlier styles.

    #4. Preserve significant changes acquired over time.

    So, if you’re building a garage now, or an addition to your house, you shouldn’t be building a “traditional” 1880s carriage barn, or making your addition look like not-an-addition. But these things are part of the fabric of the district – an existing garage or an addition onto a house contributes to the current character whether it was built 100 years ago, or the day before the historic district was created.

    To me, the mass, rhythm, and street-feel of buildings is the foremost piece of preservation, for being the first, roughest order of things – if you’re replacing a bungalow with a McMansion, it doesn’t matter what you do with the windows or the porch skirting. So I find it pretty interesting that the OWS was set up this way. But I think that, looked at this way, your garage or fence clearly matter – if I wander the OWS without my glasses on, I’ll definitely notice your new garage, but won’t have any idea what style of windows you have.

    But nor would “the backyard rule” (maybe we can call it “the whole resource rule”, instead?) preclude the construction of a new garage, treehouse, or other things that start with t. Further in the Standards,

    #9. Contemporary designs shall be compatible and shall not destroy significant original material.

    #10. New work shall be removable.

    These pretty clearly allow for new construction, in my mind, by stating the conditions it shall follow. If the structures in question in the backyard are reversible – they don’t require you to destroy original material to add them – and they are compatible with the essential form of the district, then they’re allowable. A historic district is not meant to prevent all change.

    (p.s. I think I’ve just argued for more preservation in the OWS than David Cahill wants. Start watching for airborne pigs.)

       —Murph    Nov. 20 '06 - 10:07PM    #
  23. Murph, that’s not #3. At the risk of totally dorking out AU, let’s take a look at the text provided by the Secretary of the Interior:

    Each property shall be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or architectural elements from other buildings, shall not be undertaken.

    I think the reductionist tendency to operationalize that as “don’t imitate earlier styles” is why people get pissed at the preservation.

       —Dale    Nov. 20 '06 - 11:52PM    #
  24. why people get pissed at the preservation.

    Sure, Dale. People grumble about historic preservation because the preservationists won’t let them make their homes as historicky as they’d like. Because everybody really wants to add extra muntins to their windows, but those meddling preservationists won’t let me have them!

       —Murph.    Nov. 21 '06 - 07:49AM    #
  25. People grumble about historic preservation because the preservationists won’t let them make their homes as historicky as they’d like.

    Nah, I think people grumble because they suspect preservationists have codified their aesthetic whims into law in order to impose them on those who would otherwise modify their homes in ‘poor taste’. What could be sillier than, say, prohibiting a Greek-Revival style addition onto a Greek-Revival style house? The whole house was faux to begin with. Most of our historical houses were built in one kind of ‘faux’ style or another. Angell Hall is faux. Washington D.C. is faux. Chicago’s museums are faux (remember Louis Sullivan’s crack about Daniel Burnham’s faux designs setting architecture back fifty years). The Tribune Tower is nothing if not faux.

    Would it be OK to put a Greek-Revival style addition on a Greek-Revival house if we happened to be in the midst of a Greek-Revival-Revival? And what if we’re living in a time (as we seem to be) where people treat historical styles as a catalog to choose from (cape cod, colonial, craftsman, tudor, georgian, modernist …) where nothing is really in and nothing really out?

    Anyway, I’m glad we’ve dodged the historical district on my side of town (so far).

       —mw    Nov. 21 '06 - 09:37AM    #
  26. I think Murph nails at least the perception (including my, uninformed one) out there in #24. The incidents I hear about from friends with houses in the OWS have overwhelmingly been those in which it’s appeared that the preservation board has demanded more historickiness, even on features that might not actually have been original to the house or have already changed a lot. (And I’m not talking about additions, I’m talking about repairs or minor changes—not, say, building a new garage but replacing a porch railing). These are the cases that get talked about, of course, and perhaps have given me a false sense of the issue, esp. since I’m just a spectator.

    I still think it’d be silly if people in the districts have to get approval for anything on the lot being built or changed, even if it complies with rules 9 and 10 up there—it’s not that I fear a future without treehouses or other things beginning with t but that it’d be a waste of everyone’s time and generate hostility.

       —Aki    Nov. 21 '06 - 07:07PM    #
  27. Come on, Murph — my point is, the Secretary’s guidelines allow for a great deal of creativity and diversity in choices, but HDCs oversimplify it (whether as part of a tastemaking agenda or simply because one simple sentence is just easier to remember and employ than a broad consideration of such issues). It’s the tendency to oversimplify and the actions that simplification prompts that upset people.

       —Dale    Nov. 21 '06 - 09:36PM    #
  28. “At the risk of totally dorking out AU”

    I think there’s nothing wrong with dorking out and it’s to be encouraged.

    If you’re wondering, though, where the “Now Entering Dorkville” sign should be placed in this thread, then I’d have to say it’s right next to the word ‘muntin’ in post [24].

    The issue of new stuff being differentiated from the old, as well as the reversibility of it, is actually one of the items highlighted in Kristine Kidorf’s Powerpoint.

    As I understand it, the vinyl siding a previous owner installed on my house was approved partly on the grounds that it was ‘reversible’. Specifically, if someone wanted to remove it to expose the clapboards underneath—because they wanted the pleasure of painting on a regular basis—then they could do that in a straightforward way.

    Re: Aki’s comment about perceptions based on anecdotal reports. I think that in addition to anecdotal evidence about what has actually been required by HDC for a project submitted for approval, there’s a lot of anecdotal material based on what HDC would have required if the project had been submitted for review.

    Juliew, thanks for uploading your photos. I took them to illustrate the contrast between ‘differentiated’ additions (7th Street) and a ‘blended faux’ kind of addition (Mulholland). Although the Mullholland photo doesn’t show the new construction, the actual additon ‘blends’ into the older section of the house in terms of materials and style, so that if a lay person were to look at the house by itself, they would likely not be able to tell that the front part was the original structure. The 7th Street house, in contrast, meets the ‘differentiated’ criterion, but sort of misses the boat on the ‘complementary’ and ‘massing’ score, huh?

    Dale wrote: “The Old West Side (I’m particularly speaking of the association founders, Roy Johnson and Chet LaMore, whose correspondence I have read) argued that what was special about the OWS and what really needed to be preserved was the relationship of structures to the street …
    listed on the National Register because of this characteristic streetscape and development pattern, not the merits of individual structures.”

    Current OWS Association leadership is, as best I understand, trying to make exactly this case in objecting to a standardization in the Ann Arbor ordinance across all districts based on a 360-degree view of the property.

    Personally, I’d prefer not to have a historic district at all on the OWS as to have one that applies a 360-degree standard. But I tend to think this is not a consensus view.

       —HD    Nov. 22 '06 - 01:32AM    #
  29. Of course, what this illustrates — that the development pattern and streetscape are the salient features of the OWS — is that with better zoning (or more historically faithful zoning), the historic protections would be obviated. The streetscape and development pattern only needed “saving” because zoning and development patterns had changed.

       —Dale    Nov. 22 '06 - 05:11AM    #
  30. Ahh, the grass is always greener on the other side of the historically accurate fence. I don’t live in a historic district and I wish I did, especially since the houses in my neighborhood are the same houses as in much of the Old West Side (built by the same people, lived in by the same original families).

    Having the historic designation would allow us to take advantage of federal and/or state historic preservation tax credits, it would allow us to renovate our houses to a historic standard rather than state code (For example: our neighbors had to rebuild their porch and wanted to put the original porch railing back up, but they couldn’t because it was shorter than current code. Either original or current code height is allowable in a historic district, but only code is allowed in ours), and it does provide a measure of protection for the remaining historic houses in the neighborhood.

    Our neighborhood was particularly hard hit with the “cashbox” apartment buildings in the 60s and now we are seeing buildings like this replacing the more affordable single-family and duplex housing that was there (ironically, as the apartment rental market tanks). A historic designation would at least make someone think before buying a house as a tear-down.

       —Juliew    Nov. 23 '06 - 02:31AM    #
  31. Sorry to say it but actually, the building on Green looks like a nice building…. The neighborhood is close to downtown and the athletic campus, why not have multi-family mixed in?

       —Dustin    Nov. 23 '06 - 08:38AM    #
  32. Heh, Dustin, you really don’t want to get me started on 828 Greene. Basically you are making the same assumptions that the developer did, much to his dismay now. The building required the demolition of two historic duplexes (actual multi-family buildings, rather than a commercial dorm, which is what 828 Greene is). It has been open for almost a year now, rented only a few rooms over the summer, took a loss on the rooms in the fall, and now has both rooms and full 6-bedroom apartments open for January. They have already had to add additional water removal to the basement apartments. The bedrooms are priced $300+/room more than the original houses and the existing houses next door, and there is extremely limited parking (one spot per 6-bedroom apt for an additional monthly fee) and no outdoor spaces for the tenants other than the slightly fetid drainage pools directly off the front sidewalk. Since it is a mile from campus and doesn’t have parking, undergraduate students aren’t that interested. They are six-bedroom apartments admittedly designed only for undergraduate students (namely, the owner’s son), so they won’t provide housing for any other type of resident (i.e., grad student, downtown worker). So if you think big, empty, expensive buildings that are built specifically for a resident who doesn’t actually want to live there, then yeah, it is great.

       —Juliew    Nov. 23 '06 - 09:26AM    #
  33. Yesterday evening there was a meeting at Bach School about proposals to revise our historic districts. Sabra attended; I did not.

    Presently all the houses in the Old West Side Historic District are eligible for state tax credits. One proposal is to divide the OWS houses into “contributing” and “non-contributing”. This change would mean that all the non-contributing houses would no longer be eligible for tax credits.

    Kevin McDonald, the assistant city attorney who is part of the staff working group, said that Council would be presented with a package of proposed changes. He said that if Council did not approve the changes, the staff would work on submitting something Council would approve.

    McDonald said that if Council did not accept some package of changes, “there would be no historic districts.” He did not say why this was so, or how the abolition of historic districts would come about.

    I think McDonald’s threat can be traced back to a memo the City received last spring from the State Historic Preservation Office saying that Ann Arbor’s historic district ordinances do not comply with various state rules. Based on that memo, McDonald issued a secret opinion to Council saying that our present districts are illegal.

    I think that McDonald is operating on a false premise: that the State will somehow shut Ann Arbor’s historic district operation down, or perhaps will stop approving tax credits, unless a bunch of changes are made.

    I remember discussing this matter on Arbor Update at the time. Cognoscenti of esoterica can find that discussion if they wish.

    After McDonald floated his theory, I did some checking. Presently Ann Arbor is a “Certified Local Government”, which means the state must grant tax credits. On the State Historic Preservation Office’s web site is a document setting forth an elaborate process to de-certify a local government. To my knowledge, none of those steps has occurred. Until that whole process runs its course, Ann Arbor remains a CLG.

    So what about the state’s memo? Larry Kestenbaum, who was a member of the Historic District Commission for a long time, told me that the memo was one of a series of similar memos the state has sent us over the past decades. They are not binding, and have been routinely ignored without adverse consequences. Larry said that AA established its ordinance before the state enabling act was passed, so we may be “grandparented in”.

    Therefore, I suggest that people wanting to maintain our present historic district system, and not wanting to reduce the tax credit eligibility in the Old West Side, start thinking seriously about advocating a “do-nothing scenario”.

       —David Cahill    Nov. 29 '06 - 09:54PM    #
  34. David — state tax credits are going to sunset with the SBT. That is the more important level to worry about; if there are no state tax credits at all, Ann Arbourites’ eligibility is a moot point. But we can whip up a little unfounded fear nontheless, can’t we?

    Also, I’m not sure Larry’s right about the timing. News articles I have read put the ordinance and protection of the OWS in 1971, after the 1970 state act. I would like to hear him clarify that.

       —Dale    Nov. 29 '06 - 11:38PM    #
  35. Dale, please substantiate your statement that historic preservation tax credits are going to sunset with the single business tax. I don’t see the link myself. However, the Legislature could have sunsetted both if they chose to do so.

       —David Cahill    Nov. 30 '06 - 01:44AM    #
  36. Non-occupant owners will not be able to offset their business tax with rehab tax credits. The incentives will remain for individuals, but since more than half of units in census tract 4008 are renter-occupied, let’s say at least a third of OWS historic houses will be ineligible for state credits. cf state legislation and the state preservation coordinator.

       —Dale    Nov. 30 '06 - 02:50AM    #
  37. Could you please provide a clearer source for your info? Is it on the State Historic Preservation Office website somewhere?

       —David Cahill    Nov. 30 '06 - 03:21AM    #
  38. In reading the information provided by the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, the State only gives a 5% tax credit on income property anyway because 20% of tax credit for income-generating property is covered under Federal Historic Preservation tax credit guidelines. So occupant owners can still get their 25% state tax credit and non-occupant owners can still get their 20% federal tax credit. If what you say is true Dale, they just won’t get the extra 5% that the State has been kicking in to make the tax breaks for non-occupant owners commensurate with occupant-owners in the state.

       —Juliew    Nov. 30 '06 - 03:35AM    #
  39. Brian Lijewski, the state’s tax credits guy for the SHPO.

    This is the section of the state code that was repealed. (Normal textile linking doesn’t work with these URLs). [replaced long url--ed.]

    We all pretty much knew junking the SBT was a bad idea just in terms of state revenues, but it also eliminates rehab incentives.

    Dave, give me a response in the “elections results” thread, would you? I’d like to hear about the Human Rights Party from somebody who was involved.

       —Dale    Nov. 30 '06 - 03:36AM    #
  40. Do you have a deeper link, Julie?

       —Dale    Nov. 30 '06 - 04:05AM    #
  41. Try this link. It goes to the .pdf that discusses the economic benefits of the historic preservation tax credit.

       —Juliew    Nov. 30 '06 - 04:13AM    #
  42. Thanx! This situation sounds like it could be fixed by a couple of amendments to the bills that will put into effect the emerging replacement for the SBT.

       —David Cahill    Nov. 30 '06 - 05:47AM    #
  43. This is a follow-up to my earlier comments about whether or not the proposed revision to our historic districts is necessary to preserve our historic preservation tax credits.

    Kevin McDonald, the assistant city attorney, has been telling people that without the revision, there would be no historic districts, and thus no tax credits.

    In an article in the December 15 AANews called “Historic code updated”, Tom Gantert reports the following from Kristine Kidorf, the city’s consultant, who is in charge of the revision:

    Kidorf said the state could deny state tax credits tomunicipalities that aren’t in compliance with the state, but that hasn’t happened in Ann Arbor.

    “The state doesn’t go around banging on people’s doors saying, ‘You must be in compliance with state law,’” she said.

    End of excerpt from article. So there is a clear conflict between what McDonald is saying and what Kidorf is saying.

       —David Cahill    Dec. 29 '06 - 07:25PM    #
  44. I don’t see a conflict. Ms. Kidorf is saying there has not been a problem “yet” but indicates that there could be. Mr. McDonald and the city appear to be prudently covering the bases and protecting the historic districts to the extent possible before the problem in the language is brought to light.

    What if a developer were to buy a large property in a historic district and challenge the current language which many have acknowledged is out of sync with the state’s? A real possibility exists for the court to award a victory to the developer and the city would then have to quickly go through this same process to protect the rest of the districts. But, the property in question would be lost.

    The problem the city is correcting is one that hasn’t surfaced yet. Seems wise to close the loopholes now. Any good attorney would advise this action.

       —Dustin    Dec. 30 '06 - 01:57AM    #
  45. Many good attorneys would advise “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    From what Kidorf is saying, McDonald’s threat isn’t valid in the real world.

    Maybe they’ll have an arm-wrestling contest to decide. 8-)

       —David Cahill    Dec. 30 '06 - 02:39AM    #