Friday, Sep 21, 2018
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How not to preserve our past


It’s good that Michigan Rep. Jason Sheppard (R., Temperance) and a colleague in the state Senate are not in charge of our national monuments. The bills that they are promoting to cripple historic preservation in Michigan suggest that they might think a flashing neon ad on the Washington Monument or a strip mall at the Grand Canyon would be swell ideas.

What the Republican lawmakers have in mind for Michigan is bad enough. They say their bills would “modernize” Michigan’s Historic Districts Act. In reality, they would gut the law.

Under their legislation, if a city wanted to establish a historic district with zoning protections for classic homes — such as Detroit’s Corktown or Indian Village areas — such provisions would be good only for a decade. After that, developers would be free to do what they wanted, unless both the residents of the district and the entire city voted to renew the safeguards.

This deeply worries everyone in the state who cares about historic preservation. Larry Wagenaar, who runs the Historical Society of Michigan — an organization that existed before statehood — said the bills “would critically damage an act that serves as a significant economic driver in Michigan, preserves our heritage in effective ways, and provides for true local control.”

Research shows that housing values are higher in historic districts, in part because that status prevents someone from putting vinyl siding on a Frank Lloyd Wright house. The planning director in Grand Rapids, Mich., estimated that two-thirds of the classic homes in his city would have been lost to developers had it not been for historic district safeguards.

These bills ought to be forgotten as quickly as possible, but Lansing insiders say that may depend on how strongly special interests press the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate to approve them. If they do pass, Gov. Rick Snyder needs to veto them the moment they reach his desk.

Signing these bad bills might make Mr. Snyder persona non grata among his new neighbors: The governor and his wife recently bought a home in Ann Arbor’s Main Street Historic District.

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