Iconic historic communities, do they deserve historic protection?

Tonight a big decision is being made  on a  local historic district, which presents a good moment to reflect on our opinion regarding the issue.

Design review is an overlay, designed to protect property values – a property rights issue!  In recent years opponents to design review have twisted the same language with success, it is about property rights, “I have the right to do whatever I want” …regardless of its impact on neighbors and their property values.

Tonight Mackinac Island will decide whether or not to enact a historic district with design review.  That’s right; Mackinac Island the quaint historic isle in northern Michigan which has 1 million visitors annually via its heritage tourism economy has no “protection.”

Free of automobiles since 1898 to protect the charm, but not so for their built environment.  Between 1970 and 2000 over 100 buildings were torn down. Cheap contemporary intrusions, vinyl siding and the like is allowed and proliferates.  In 2008, the National Park Service put the island’s National Landmark status on a watch list, because there is no protection for historic structures and integrity is eroding.  Last year the 125 year-old McNally Cottage on Main Street was torn down and a new motel was built (a design that many of us might question as being compatible).  Now another large modern hotel is proposed to be built at the dock, large enough to block the view as you come onto the island.  If it matters, by an investor who doesn’t live on the island.

If your economy was based on heritage tourism would you really leave it up to chance?  Are they so confident that visitors will continue to come regardless of the historic integrity?

Truly the make-up of a community is not only about how much money can be made. Remember in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when Bedford Falls changed to Pottersville? Integrity is an issue for people, businesses and communities, particularly when being marketed as a historic community.

Ohio has 71 National Historic Landmark sites, see HERE, three of those are communities, Glendale, Mount Pleasant, and Mariemont, each have historic district review to protect the assets that define their community.

New developments use design review as do historic developments,  to maintain property values, and in tourist destinations such as Charleston SC to protect the economy of the region as a whole.

What do you think ?

For the National Trust’s 10 Steps to Establish a Local Historic District link HERE


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3 Responses to “Iconic historic communities, do they deserve historic protection?”
  1. Joyce says:

    happy to report that Mackinac Island voted to adopt the two proposed local historic districts

  2. Meagan says:

    A simple fact, private buildings exist in the public realm. And while taste can be contested, condition cannot.

    In some cases having a neighborhood led movement, that hopefully includes municipal support, to improve homes and buildings and fine negligent owners can be as successful as a local preservation district. That approach, assuming that it comes from within the community, accomplishes a similar end without restricting anyone’s property rights, and without including the four letter word of preservation in the conversation.

    Preservationists would also benefit from clear and accurate statements and charts about the pros and cons of local districts, NR districts and NHL districts.

    • Joyce says:

      You are indeed correct, if everyone just did really close to the “right” thing we wouldn’t need any of this.
      We are advocates for Minimum Maintenance Codes and Vacant Property Registries, or Historic Districts. Whatever the correct mix of ordinances which are appropriate to the community.
      Well trained historic review boards are critical, due process should not be discretionary. Historic District ordinances should not be based on taste.
      When a community is basing their economy on Heritage Tourism, perhaps historic is part of the mix.
      Heritage Ohio supports the training and supportive information available from the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions. http://napc.uga.edu/