8330432015_0be8368b7dMichigan’s historic places drive economic development, attract businesses, draw tourists and new residents, create a sense of place, and enhance our quality of life. Keeping these historic places is so important that historic preservation has been upheld as a public purpose under the U. S. Constitution—preserving historic resources is a valid governmental goal and local historic district ordinances have been upheld as an appropriate means to secure that goal.

Jackson’s main district, the Under The Oaks Historic District, was created in 1998 in order protect the buildings, structures and sites relevant to the area related to the founding of the Republican Party. It represents a majority of the 450 buildings that are designated as historic structures in the City of Jackson.

In January of 2016, he Michigan Legislature introduced House Bill 5232 and Senate Bill 720. These bills have serious detrimental impacts to historic resources and local historic districts through proposed amendments to Michigan’s Local Historic Districts Act, PA 169 of 1970. You can read more about why here from the Michigan Historic Preservation Network.

I had an opportunity on January 27th to testify in front of the State House’s Local Government Committee in opposition to these bills, and introduced a resolution to City Council to express our formal opposition. Below is a summary of my testimony:

  • Thank you Mr. Chairman and honorable committee members.
  • My name is Derek Dobies and I am the Vice Mayor for the City of Jackson. I also serve on our city’s Planning Commission and help staff our city’s Historic District Commission.
  • Being that the legislation was introduced yesterday and testimony was called the next day, I haven’t been able to speak with our Historic District Commission, our City Council, or our administration about how this bill might affect some of the building design standards we are working on with the Historic District Commission to protect the historic character of downtown Jackson. I’m sure a lot of other cities and municipalities are in a similar position.
  • In 1998, Jackson City Council created the Under the Oaks Historic District – something many of the Republicans in this room may recognize – it is the birthplace of the Republican Party – all the way back to 1854. The district, along with other spot districts, represent about 450 buildings in the city of Jackson.  
  • Today I speak in opposition to this House Bill 5232.
  • This bill has the effect of taking away even more tools for local governments to have a positive impact in contributing to the redevelopment of our community, and there are a few points I’d like to highlight as problems in this bill:
    • The bill requires consent by petition of two-thirds of property owners in the proposed district. This is onerous considering we already are required to: (1) seek approval of the property owners in the proposed area, (2) appoint a committee to provide a needs study that surveys the proposed district and make that report available to the public, (3) hold a public hearing 60 days after that at an open meeting, (4) mail first class letters to every property owner 14 days before the hearing, (5) present a public report on the district to the local legislative body, and (6) host public meetings on the passage of the ordinance.
    • The bill removes reporting requirements to the state historic preservation review board.
    • The bill will require local governments to hold and pay for new elections. In Jackson, these elections can cost $30,000 – money that could be used in our budget elsewhere.
    • The bill subjects the interests of one area that may support a historic district to the political whims of the whole city in a local election.
    • Most importantly, the bill subjects long standing, effective historic districts to automatic dissolution – subjecting them to the political whims of an election that undermines the intent of historic preservation – a scenario that would likely eliminate the historic district that preserves the birthplace of the Republican Party.
  • We have heard a lot of talk about private homes and property rights, but I want to be clear: this act protects history beyond private historical homes. It protects historic resources, yes homes, but also other publicly or privately owned buildings, structures, sites, objects, features, or open spaces that are significant in the history, architecture, archaeology, engineering or culture of this state or our community.
  • While we don’t always agree with our Historic District Commission, we have a great working relationship with them. 
  • We see historic preservation as an asset in Jackson, and a tool that can be used to fuel economic development as we work to revitalize our city.
  • Again, I ask that this committee give the City of Jackson, and other communities like it that are just now having an opportunity to read this bill, an opportunity to review the bill, consult with our historic district, and provide this committee with relevant, constructive feedback to preserve the integrity of our historic districts and promote historic preservation.