Stories indexed with the term ‘historic preservation’

Brownfield Plan for Ypsilanti Site: Initial OK

A brownfield redevelopment plan for the Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town area was given initial approval by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its April 2, 2014 meeting. A final vote is expected on April 16. [.pdf of Thompson Block brownfield plan]

The plan covers 400-408 N. River St. and 107 E. Cross St., an historic property that has been declared ”functionally obsolete and blighted.” That qualifies the project as a brownfield under the state’s brownfield redevelopment financing act (Public Act 381), which allows the owner to receive reimbursements for eligible activities through tax increment financing (TIF). Approval also will allow the developer to apply for Michigan Business Tax Credits. The property is currently owned by Thompson Block … [Full Story]

Jarvis Stone School Gets Historic Designation

Jarvis Stone School in Salem Township – a former one-room schoolhouse built in 1857 and located at 7991 North Territorial Road – will be designated as an historic district, following action at the June 5, 2013 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. [.pdf of ordinance]

The board approved an ordinance that designates the 1.42-acre property as an historic district under the jurisdiction of the Washtenaw County Historic District Commission. The property is owned by the Salem Area Historical Society, which uses the school as its headquarters. It would be the second historic district in Salem Township. The first one is Conant Farm on Napier Road.

The Salem Township board had granted a request to consider the … [Full Story]

Local Historic District Awards Announced

As part of National Preservation Month, 20 awards will be presented for local historic preservation efforts at the June 4, 2012 Ann Arbor city council meeting. The Historic District Awards cover several categories, according to a press release issued by the city. [.pdf of press release with complete list of winners]

Owners of five properties – including the University of Michigan’s Burton Memorial Tower and The Relax Station at 300 W. Huron – will be honored for rehabilitating those properties “in accordance with good preservation practice as established by the U.S. Department of the Interior.”  Owners of another 10 properties will be recognized for having preserved their property for over 10 years of continuous ownership. People in that category include councilmember Mike … [Full Story]

Column: City Council as a Historic Body

By now, most Chronicle readers are likely weary of reading about the controversy involving Heritage Row versus City Place – two proposed developments for Fifth Avenue south of William Street. For my part, I am certainly weary of writing about it. [timeline]

By way of brief recap, Heritage Row was a planned unit development for the site, which would have preserved a row of seven houses to historic district standards (in the version presented to the city council in summer 2010) and constructed three apartment buildings behind them. City Place is a “matter-of-right” project that will likely start construction in the next few weeks. [Most recent Chronicle coverage: "Chapter Added to Fifth Ave. Historic Saga"]

Why will we likely see the demolition of those seven houses instead of their preservation in some form? At the city council’s Oct. 24 meeting, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) called it a failure by the city council to reach a compromise – on something that was less than ideal, but still reasonable.

The functioning of the city council as a body is an issue that has emerged as part of the Ward 2 city council race this year, which is being contested between independent Jane Lumm and Democratic incumbent Stephen Rapundalo. Lumm served on the council in the mid-1990s and has faced criticism from Rapundalo for being part of a group that he contends was characterized by brinksmanship and an inability to work constructively despite disagreements.

The functioning of the city council as a body is one of the themes of a email message written earlier today to members of the city council by Larry Kestenbaum. As far as I’m aware, Kestenbaum is not involved in the campaign of either Ward 2 candidate – that’s not his home ward, and he is not listed as a supporter on either of the candidates’ websites. In any case, the specific point of his email message was about the demolition of the seven houses on Fifth Avenue.

Kestenbaum is known to many in the community as the Washtenaw County clerk, an elected position. But he was not writing to the council as the clerk. He’s also an attorney who has a degree in land use and historic preservation from Cornell University. He served on Ann Arbor’s historic district commission in the 1990s. Also in that decade, he taught a course in historic preservation law at Eastern Michigan University. He lives in Ann Arbor.

Though his message to the council comes now, after the decisions on the South Fifth Avenue development seem to have finally been made, Kestenbaum did not exactly come late to the party as far as expressing his views on that area of the city. Writing on the now defunct ArborUpdate in August 2008, Kestenbaum stated: “I’d redesignate all of the former individual historic properties that were left unprotected after that bad court decision on 9/11/2001. And I think the area immediately south of William Street, along Fifth and Hamilton for example, should be a [historic] district.”

I think Kestenbaum’s recent email is unlikely to persuade any member of the council to take the action he suggests. But in my view, it’s a particularly well-written exposition of the idea that a city council is fairly judged by what it accomplishes as a body, not by the individual actions of its members. I think it’s important to preserve that exposition in The Chronicle’s archives.

It’s also important to preserve in the archives if it turns out that Kestenbaum’s message does manage to convince the council to set a process in motion to establish a historic district for the area.

And that’s why we’re sharing it with readers. Kestenbaum’s message begins after the jump. [Full Story]

Column: A Broadside for Barn Preservation

Editor’s note: The Chronicle’s regular coverage of civic affairs includes many meetings of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt advisory commission (GAC) as well as the city’s historic district commission (HDC). The GAC oversees the spending of revenues from a millage dedicated to the preservation of open space – much of it in the countryside around Ann Arbor. Inside the city, the HDC is charged with reviewing requests for modifications to structures that are preserved in Ann Arbor’s 14 historic districts.

In following The Chronicle’s coverage of these issues, local architect Chuck Bultman has been wrestling with the notion of where old barns fit into this preservation picture.

Every architect remembers that first time they went into a barn – the vastness of the space, the hewn beams, the light streaming through all of those gaps. For me it was in southwest Virginia, in the country going to college. I was captivated by the light and space. Outside, the farmyard also made its statement. The large red barn, along with the out-buildings made a room with a silo in it, not so much unlike a piazza with a campanile.

Barns have an interesting place in the built world. They are icons in the landscape, and as such it is easy for us all to assume a familiarity, bordering on ownership. After all, they have been there for as long as you can remember and you expect them to be there long after you are gone. We think of barns not as in the landscape. Instead, like rivers or mountains, they seem part of it – an inseparable part of the countryside that surrounds towns and cities across the country, coloring the landscape with distinct personalities. They are variously described as timeless, strong, permanent, and historic.

But barns are not part of the landscape, nor are they timeless, permanent, or historic – at least as we might commonly apply the word “historic” to an achievement, for example. [Full Story]

More Solar Energy Projects In the Works

Bonnie Bona insists that the best way to make pesto is with a mortar and pestle. While she admits the method is more labor-intensive than using a food processor, Bona cites it as yet another tip to become more eco-friendly.

MIchigan Theater Building on East Liberty

The plain brick wall on the Michigan Theater Building on East Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor – rising up behind the storefronts – will be the site of a solar panel installation funded by XSeed Energy, a program of the Clean Energy Coalition and the city of Ann Arbor. (Photos by Mary Morgan.)

As a project manager for the Ypsilanti-based Clean Energy Coalition, Bona specializes in this art of saving energy. She is quick to add, however, that “my goal isn’t to make people sacrifice and suffer. It’s to make them see opportunities where life can be better and, oh, by the way, it uses a lot less energy.”

But it’s not just about using less energy. Bona and others in the Ann Arbor area are involved with projects that focus on generating alternative energy, too – in particular, solar power. Prompted in part by the lure of tax credits and available state and federal funding, an increasing number of efforts are underway to install solar panels on individual residences, businesses, nonprofits and schools – including, as one recent example, the Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor.

And in mid-August, the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission unanimously approved two solar installation projects in historic districts, one for a private home on South Seventh Street, and another at the Michigan Theater. With some citing concern over aesthetics, commissioners acknowledged that they’ll likely see more of these requests in the future, and discussed the need to develop guidelines for solar installations within the city’s historic districts. [Full Story]

Development Déjà Vu Dominates Council

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (June 21, 2010): Heritage Row is a proposed residential project that would have renovated seven older houses along South Fifth Avenue south of William Street, and constructed three new buildings behind the houses.

Alex de Parry

Developer Alex de Parry addresses the Ann Arbor city council in support of the Heritage Row project at council's June 21 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The number of houses to be renovated – called the “Seven Sisters” by some in the community who support their preservation – matched the number of votes the project received Monday night from the 11-member city council.

While that is a majority, the seven votes in favor of Heritage Row did not meet the eight-vote minimum that was required. The super-majority requirement came as a result of a protest petition that was successfully filed on the same day as the council’s last meeting, June 7. On that occasion, the council first considered this newest iteration of the project, but postponed it until their June 21 meeting.

The project rejected by the council on Monday in its 7-4 vote was a planned unit development (PUD), which would have required the city to amend its zoning. That leaves in play an already-approved earlier project at the same location, called City Place. City Place was authorized by the council last year as a “matter of right” (MOR) project – because it was judged to meet all applicable codes and zoning regulations.

The City Place (MOR) would demolish the seven houses and replace them with two apartment buildings separated by a parking lot. It’s a project that would be almost certainly denied by the city’s historic district commission – if a historic district were established in the area, as a study committee has recently recommended. The council is expected to make its final vote on the historic district at its July 6 meeting.

But the council gave its initial consideration to establishment of that historic district on Monday night. It’s more customary for councilmembers to vote for proposals on their first reading – to advance a proposal to a public hearing – even if they ultimately plan to vote against it. But Monday’s meeting saw three councilmembers already voting against establishing the district.

The council’s meeting also started off with the theme of historic preservation, as the city’s historic district commission presented its annual preservation awards.

In other business, the council gave a short extension to developer Village Green, which has an option-to-purchase agreement with the city for the city-owned parcel at First and Washington streets. The time for the extension is to be used to work with the city planning staff to put together milestones that need to be met. [Full Story]

The Constitution of Historic Districts

At a recent forum hosted by the Ann Arbor city Democratic party for candidates of the 52nd and 53rd District state House races, the topic of the state’s constitution arose in the form of an audience question. Did the candidates favor holding a convention to rework the state’s document of basic law?

The state’s constitution also came up in a recent letter conveyed to the city of Ann Arbor by an attorney for Alex de Parry, the developer of a proposed project called Heritage Row along Fifth Avenue south of William Street. The project was voted down at the Ann Arbor city council’s June 21 meeting on a 7-4 vote in favor, thus failing to meet the eight-vote majority required. [Chronicle coverage of that meeting is forthcoming.]

The main focus of the letter, sent to the city by de Parry’s legal counsel the same day as the council met to vote on Heritage Row, is not that project per se, but rather the historic district that the council may decide to establish at its next meeting on July 6. The recommended historic district, which includes the parcels that were to be used to build Heritage Row, received its initial consideration by the council at their June 21 meeting.

While its more customary for councilmembers to vote for a proposal at its first reading, even if they’re against it, three councilmembers at the June 21 meeting chose to oppose the establishment of the district already at its first reading. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 2 Ward 4) all voted against the historic district.

None of the three cited the specific issues raised in the letter from de Parry’s legal counsel as reasons for voting against the district – Derezinski had voted at the council’s Aug. 6, 2009 meeting against establishing a committee to study the question. And Rapundalo had supported a postponement of that vote.

But for the final vote on July 6, the points raised in the letter from de Parry’s legal counsel may well factor explicitly into the council’s deliberations. The legal reasoning in the letter leads to the conclusion that the way local historic districts are set up in Michigan potentially violates the state’s constitution. And if the reasoning in the letter stands legal scrutiny, it could change the way any future historic districts in the state of Michigan are established. [Full Story]