2010-07-17 / Top News

City Calls Time Out on Demolition

Six-month Moratorium in Place Downtown
By Karen Gould

At left: McNally Cottage pictured center), slated to be torn down in October, now is protected for at least six months under a newly enacted demolition moratorium. The 119-year-old structure is a contributing building to the Island National Historic Landmark designation and stands on Main Street among new hotels and historic buildings. At left: McNally Cottage pictured center), slated to be torn down in October, now is protected for at least six months under a newly enacted demolition moratorium. The 119-year-old structure is a contributing building to the Island National Historic Landmark designation and stands on Main Street among new hotels and historic buildings. McNally Cottage got a six-month reprieve from the wrecking ball and Mackinac Island secured some breathing room when an emergency moratorium on demolition was enacted Wednesday, July 14. In a five-to-one vote, the Mackinac Island City Council stopped all demolition in the downtown area, including the 119-year-old McNally Cottage, slated to be torn down this fall by its owner Ira Green.

If within the six months the city does not establish a local historic district, the demolition permits for McNally Cottage could be reactivated and Mr. Green can move forward with construction of a three-story hotel and retail complex. The city, however, also has the option to extend the moratorium for an additional six months to allow an Historic District Committee to complete its work, if it is unable to meet the first six-month deadline in January 2011.

Bottom left: More than 50 people were present at a public hearing on Mackinac Island Wednesday evening, July 14. Just an hour later, after taking public comments, the city council adopted a six-month moratorium on demolition of buildings in the downtown area. Bottom left: More than 50 people were present at a public hearing on Mackinac Island Wednesday evening, July 14. Just an hour later, after taking public comments, the city council adopted a six-month moratorium on demolition of buildings in the downtown area. If the committee completes its work and the city creates a local historic district within six months, the McNally demolition permits would become invalid because they would not comply with local historic district regulations, said city attorney Tom Evashevski.

The moratorium enacted Wednesday evening is not Island-wide, but covers a proposed local historic district now under consideration by the city. The boundary extends from Fort Street at Marquette Park up Market Street and Cadotte Avenue to Mahoney Avenue, and along Main Street to the school, and all side streets between.

The committee, which was appointed by Mayor Margaret Doud at the end of June, will hold its first meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 21.

Committee members include aldermen Mike Hart, Dan Wightman, and Sam Barnwell and business owners Steve Moskwa and Brad Chambers. Resident Nancy May offered to help the committee with its survey work by taking photographs of all the property at no charge and Cordelia Puttkammer said she, too, would assist with the project.

More than 50 people attended the public hearing on the moratorium, one hour before the city council convened. No one spoke in opposition of the moratorium and any stayed for the council meeting to witness the vote and applauded council's decision to preserve the downtown area.

McNally Cottage owner, Mr. Green, also attended both meetings and told residents their love for the Island was clear.

“You've all been here longer than I have and I appreciate it and I will take great heed in what you've said. I will take it back to my group [investors] and present your love of Mackinac...,” said Mr. Green. “I'm sincere, guys. I know the Opera House and I are part of the problem,” he said, referring to city concerns also about an old store in need of repair that once housed a theater upstairs.

Mr. Green asked residents to consider his perspective as a property owner and of other downtown business owners who have made an investment and have rights, but now cannot develop their property as others have been allowed in the past.

“I've done well here. I thank all of you for having me. This has been a wonderful life for me. I've been here 19 years and I appreciate it and I certainly don't want to hurt the goose either...,” he said. “I hope you can look at it from other people's perspective on how they're going to be compensated, because your rights and the things you love give you your value. Some of these people have made investments and I think they deserve theirs [rights], as well.”

He offered his opinion of how, if put in place, a local historic district would limit the rights of property owners.

“If you had a one-story building, there's a very good chance that building in the middle of town won't be able to be a threestory building like its neighbors have become,” he said.

Alderman Frank Bloswick was the only dissenting vote on the moratorium issue, citing concerns that construction work would stop and year-around employment for some Island residents would end.

“This is about employment in the wintertime,” he said following the meeting. “There is honor in work, and welfare is virtueless.”

Alderman Jason St. Onge had similar concerns when the public hearing began. Contractors, he said, are concerned that a demolition moratorium would put them out of work for the next six months.

“I want it clear upfront we are not going to end contracting for six months on Mackinac Island,” said Mr. St. Onge.

Alderman Sam Barnwell, Mr. Hart, Mr. Evashevski, and others explained that painting, roofing that replaced the same material, and other repair work, and interior work will not be affected by the moratorium.

Also, said Mr. Hart, the Island's National Historic Landmark designation provides tax credits for property owners following specific guidelines, and that can be an advantage to contractors who become familiar with historic preservation work.

“I urge those contractors who are worried to steer away from rumors and steer toward information which can benefit them directly,” he said.

During the public hearing, Mayor Doud suggested the city invite Bryan Lijewski, an architect with State Historic Preservation Office, to talk with contractors.

During the council vote, Mr. St. Onge said his concerns and questions had been answered regarding the moratorium. During discussions, he made a short list of all the historic buildings that he could remember that have since been torn down, including the old barn on Market Street where the Cottage Inn now sits, the old Trim house, where Weber's Floral is now, the old Sarducci building, and the old Nordberg house across from the Beaumont exhibit at the corner of Market and Fort streets, that used to house the Town Crier interns, which now is a yard.

“In light of all this, I'm not sure we can, or we even have the legal ability to, save the building what's on everybody's mind, but hopefully this is the impetus to start the salvation of the theater building,” he said.

During the public hearing, Mayor Doud read two letters in favor of the moratorium. The Island offers historic buildings, not “faux or plastic history,” said seasonal resident Susan Allen, whose 120-year-old family cottage on the East Bluff has been in her family for four generations.

“We consider ourselves stewards more than owners,” she wrote, “well aware of the irreplaceable nature of the building and our role in preserving it for future generations. Like the other historic structures on the Island, once they are gone, they are gone.”

Resident Barbara Fisher asked the city to slow down and get the Master Plan finished.

“The fear of over development is present, and when we live on an Island with a limited amount of space, we have to be extremely careful to guard and protect the space we have,” she wrote.

Summer resident Susan Lenfestey questioned why the community would establish a new Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote the Island and then demolish buildings.

“It seems counter productive to tearing down buildings that would attract visitors and then charge more money to get them here,” she said.

Mackinac Island buildings are as unique as each Island resident, said Planning Commission member Candi Dunnigan.

“We don't want this to look as Margaret [Mayor Doud] said, as a cookie cutter, because it never started out that way and it would be a shame if it did,” she said.

Resident Nancy May, who now has gathered 321 signatures on a petition in support of the moratorium, questioned the future of the old opera house.

Mr. Evashevski has been working with the owner's attorney, said Mayor Doud.

The city has required some repairs and has hired a contractor who has said in writing it is structurally sound, said Mr. Evashevski. If the building were to start crumbling, he noted, the building would be a danger to the public and the city would assess repair costs to the owner.

City building inspector Dennis Dombroski said there is trim that is rotting, but the most the city can do now is to insist that the building be structurally safe.

Rosalie Roush asked council members to offer their opinions on the need to preserve the Island's National Historic Landmark designation, and the council offered the following ideas.

Mayor Doud: “I have often said over the years, if we killed the goose that laid the golden egg, what have we got left? And that's why I think it is so important that we maintain the uniqueness and the historic nature of this Island. You can go to Mackinaw City, you can go here, you can go there, but when you come to Mackinac Island, there is a certain special atmosphere here that you can't find in any other place.”

Mr. Hart: “We do sell a step back in time image. I think it is hugely important to the welfare of this community as an economic body to preserve that designation [National Historic Landmark].

Mr. Barnwell: “I think it is hard to separate that designation from the product we put forth to the public... If you look at any of our hotel Web sites, it doesn't say National Historic Landmark, but all the culture and everything we put forth in the downtown and as a resort area are all reflected in the designation.”

Alderman Armin Porter: “If you want to go to Coney Island, go to Coney Island. It's got its place. This isn't it. Mackinac Island is historical. That's what we have to keep.”

Mr. Bloswick: “As far as I'm concerned, we should save the buildings worth saving, like the opera house.”

Mr. St. Onge: “Historical preservation doesn't just lie with us, it lies with building owners, and that's who we have to get on board with this or we may be futile in our efforts.”

Dan Wightman: “I don't see how you can say Mackinac Island and not say history in the same breath.”

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