Grosse Pointe City takes next step toward creating local historic district

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 22, 2020

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Grosse Pointe City officials are moving forward with the creation of a local historic district — or districts — within the city.

During an Aug. 17 Grosse Pointe City Council meeting by Zoom, the council heard a presentation about historic districts by Kristine Kidorf, of Detroit-based Kidorf Preservation Consulting.

City Manager Pete Dame said Kristine Kidorf was involved in a preliminary historical building assessment in Grosse Pointe City for the Grosse Pointe Historical Society in 2011.

“She is a noted historical preservation expert,” Dame said.

There are three types of historic districts in Michigan: national, state and local, Kidorf said.

Of those, “local historic districts are the only (ones) that protect (historic homes),” she continued.

Kidorf said local historic districts stabilize and improve property values and protect investments made by homeowners. Such districts don’t prevent change or renovations, but they do make some changes to the home subject to certain standards.

The first step toward establishment of a historic district or districts is the adoption of a resolution for a historic district study, Kidorf said. This would involve the council appointing a Historic District Study Committee to conduct a photographic inventory of City properties and do research about these properties, using criteria from the National Register of Historic Places, she said.

“The most time-consuming thing to do is the research,” Dame said.

It’s the council, said Kidorf, that “determines and sets the study area.”

“I would say it’s going to take at least six months” to do the study and research on each home, Kidorf said.

Study committee members don’t need to be City residents, but they do need to have interest in, or knowledge of, historic preservation, Kidorf said. The committee should include representatives from local historic preservation groups, such as the Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

Based on their research, the committee would prepare a draft report that would be delivered simultaneously to the Grosse Pointe City Planning Commission, Michigan’s State Historic Preservation Office, the Michigan Historical Commission and Michigan’s State Historic Preservation Review Board. Around this time, Kidorf said, the draft report is usually put out for public review, as well. At least 60 days after the draft report is sent out, the Historic District Study Committee would hold a public hearing, she said. The committee has up to a year after the public hearing to submit its final report to the City Council, which then either approves or rejects the proposed historic district/districts.

If a historic district is approved, the council needs to adopt a historic district ordinance and appoint a Historic District Commission of seven to nine members, all of whom must be City residents. The majority of the commission members should have an interest in, or knowledge of, historic preservation, and at least one should be affiliated with an organization like the GPHS. If possible, Kidorf said it’s preferable to also have at least one commission member who’s a graduate of an accredited school of architecture who’s a registered architect in Michigan or who has at least two years of architectural experience.

Once a local historic district is created, those who live within its boundaries need to apply to the Historic District Commission for approval on some types of exterior renovations, Kidorf said. Minor work such as repainting might not require approval, but a major project — such as replacing a roof — usually needs approval, she said. In the vast majority of cases — Kidorf estimated it at 80%-90% — applicants are approved. In those instances in which the commission denies the application, she said the commission has to cite its reason/reasons so that the applicant can amend the application or appeal the denial with the state. Kidorf said state appeals “are rare,” with state officials only hearing about five per year.

Mayor Sheila Tomkowiak asked how many historical districts exist in Michigan.

“Detroit alone has well over 200,” Kidorf said. “There’s a lot.”

“So, this is not unusual?” Tomkowiak responded.

“No, not at all,” Kidorf said.

In order to demolish homes in a local historic district, Kidorf said, they have to be a safety hazard, economically unfeasible to maintain, in the community’s best interest to tear down to build something new, or not in the interest of the majority of the community to maintain. Someone who purchases a home in such a district can’t simply say they can’t afford to preserve the home, however.

“The owner can’t create their own hardship,” Kidorf said.

The council gave consensus to direct City administrators to draft a resolution authorizing a historic district study area and historic district study commission, as well as to come back to the council with a professional service agreement for a historic preservation study.

During a Sept. 21 meeting via Zoom, the council voted unanimously in favor of authorizing a historic district study and creating a study commission. In addition, the council voted unanimously in favor of a services agreement with Kidorf Preservation Consulting.

On July 20, the council approved a six-month moratorium on demolition permits for primary and coach houses in the Estate Residential, or E-R, zoning district, as well as a six-month moratorium on permits for new homes in the Estate Residential zoning district. If needed, Dame told the council that moratorium could be extended.

City officials hope to “preserve some of these large historic estates” that remain, Dame said.