Bill could threaten existence of historic Heritage Hill

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A bill making its way through Lansing could threaten the existence of historical districts like Heritage Hill in Grand Rapids if approved.

Heritage Hill has been a historical district since 1968 but the new bill, which is aimed at giving homeowners more rights over what they can do to their homes, has a provision that puts the continued existence of historical districts in the hands of the voters.

“The work we have done in this neighborhood to stabilize it has benefited the entire downtown. The same with Heartside. If they hadn’t saved Heartside by declaring it a historic district it would all be torn down by now,” said Heritage Hill resident Kerry Baldwin.

Baldwin and her husband bought their home along College Avenue nearly 30 years ago.

“Historic preservation is about maintaining the visual characteristic of a community,” said Baldwin.

According to the Heritage Hill Association there are about 1,300 homes in historical Heritage Hill in which more than 4,000 people live. Of those that reside in Heritage Hill, 64 are considered to be moderate to low income.

Homeowners in historic districts are allowed to make any changes they want to the inside of their homes, but any changes to the exterior must be approved by the districts’ historic preservation commission.

“It’s no different than people who buy in a condo development, any of these communities that control what you can do with the exterior of your home. It’s pretty common,” Baldwin said.

House Bill 5232, introduced by Rep. Chris Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Township), is looking to give homeowners more control over changes.

“What we’re really trying to focus on is the small repairs, modifications, windows, alternate building materials, so that people can use those,” said Rep. Afendoulis.

Currently if a homeowner doesn’t like what the commission says about changes they want to make they have to appeal to the state. Afendoulis’ bill would allow them to instead appeal to the city commission.

“We’re just trying to even the playing field a little bit here to allow property owners to have the right of appeal to their city commission,” Afendoulis said.

However the bill, if passed, would also require existing historical districts to renew their historical designation every 10 years through a citywide vote. That has people like Baldwin and her neighbors worried they could someday no longer have the protections of being a historical district and could open up the area to developers.

“Is it possible? Yeah it’s possible. But I would say pretty remote. We’re talking about a historic district. The city has made it clear it wants to have historic districts,” said Afendoulis.

“Who is going to buy one of these house and move in and pour money into it for nine years knowing the tenth year the neighborhood could completely change, homes get torn down, high rises get put up,” Baldwin said.

Afendoulis says he has gotten a lot of feedback — both good and bad — and a substitute bill that will be introduced into committee likely next week that would make some changes.

“I think it’s important for people to understand that it isn’t just we who live in these districts who will be affected by this bill, it’s everyone in this state,” said Baldwin.

———Online:Heritage Hill AssociationHouse Bill 5232

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