Farmington Historic District ordinance could change by fall

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published August 5, 2013

 Jeannette LeMense lives in this historic home in the 23000 block of Farmington Road.

Jeannette LeMense lives in this historic home in the 23000 block of Farmington Road.

Photo by Deb Jacques

FARMINGTON — If the Farmington City Council approves a change to the city’s historic district ordinance by the fall, the city’s Historical Commission would have the legal ability to regulate some aspects of historic home renovations as early as next year, commission members said during a July 25 meeting at City Hall.

Although the proposed ordinance — which gives the city the legal ability to regulate the construction, addition, alteration, repair, moving, excavation and demolition of resources in the local historic district — is still in the works, the commission is clear on its purpose and plans for the future.

“Preserving neighborhoods is important for longtime value,” Commissioner Janet Macdonald told C & G Newspapers during the meeting.

A local historic district may encompass a downtown, a residential neighborhood or both, according to Historical Commission documents. In 1966, the city passed an ordinance that created the local historic district bounded by Grand River, Shiawassee and Warner Street, Commission Chairperson Laura Myers said.

“We have a very small downtown, but we are blessed with three or four blocks of very visible houses. We have 126 residences within the historic district,” she said.

The proposed ordinance started in 2005, as a backup to the state’s Public Act 169 of 1970 — state legislation that gives communities power to adopt a local historic district ordinance.

Farmington resident Jeanette LeMense said the historic district ordinance is a nice idea, but also a potential bother.

“If you have to go through somebody, it’s going to be much more of a pain,” she said, “if you’ve got to get everything looked at.”

LeMense, who has lived in the historic district for 14 years, said other communities have stricter rules, but it makes sense, as well.

“Personally, I think it is a nice idea to try to restore a house to their original glory,” she said. “However, I think it takes away some of the creativity that the homeowner might have. For me, if I wanted to remodel my bathroom, I didn’t have to contact anybody.”

Linda Chiara, who lives in a non-historical home in the 30000 block of Shiawassee, said the ordinance wouldn’t mean anything to her.

“Obviously, I would have to get a permit from the city to do it, but they wouldn’t really have any say over what I would do to it,” she said, because she lives in a non-historical home.

Myers said the status of a home in the historic district does not matter.

“Exterior changes to all homes in the district currently require Historical Commission review,” she said. “It would be up to the city attorney to decide how to draft the new ordinance, but typically, all structures within a historic district are evaluated and determined to be ‘contributing’ or ‘non-contributing.’”

A contributing structure adds to the historic or architectural value for which the district is significant, she said; typically, contributing structures are older than 50 years. Non-contributing structures do not add to the historic or architectural value of the district, and are less than 50 years old. Alterations to non-contributing structures are usually required to meet design standards to ensure that changes made are compatible with the character of the district, she added.

The goal of the legislation is to also safeguard a community’s heritage, stabilize and improve property values, foster civic beauty, strengthen the local economy, and promote the use of historic buildings for the education, welfare and pleasure of Michigan residents, according to www.michigan. gov.

Having the same set of rules for all historic districts helps to ensure that houses are left in the same condition after homeowners move in and move out, Myers said.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t add to your house, can’t demolish,” Myers said. “I don’t care what you do inside. I only care about what is seen on the street — the fabric and look of what the neighborhood is.”

Macdonald added that she wants residents to view the Historical Commission as a resource, not a burden.

“We don’t want to be viewed as barrier,” she said.

The Historical Commission is a nine-member body that meets at City Hall at 7:30 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month. For more information, call City Manager Vincent Pastue at (248) 474-5500.