2012-06-23 / Top News

Property Owners, Public Voice Opinions

Historic District Hearing
By Matt Mikus

Almost two years after the creation of the Historic District Study Committee, the public hearing to gather opinion on two proposed downtown historic districts on Mackinac Island was held Saturday,

June 16. Many spoke in favor of the districts, but a few had reservations, saying restrictions would infringe on their ability to manage their own property. The committee will continue to accept written opinions through Monday, July 2.

Two historic districts have been proposed. One, called the West End Historic District, is mostly residential and includes the public school. The other covers properties in the commercial downtown area, along Main and Market streets and their connecting streets.

More than 80 people attended the public hearing, which lasted 40 minutes, and anyone signing up could speak for two minutes. Property owners in the two proposed districts spoke first, followed by the general public.

“We are here today to sit quietly, and hear from you,” said Mike Hart, the committee chairman, who moderated the session.

“Everything said and written here today will be entered into the record and be considered by the committee and be considered in its deliberations.”

The committee will now meet twice, the week of July 16 and the week of July 30, to review compiled data and prepare a final report. It plans to submit a preliminary final report to the city council and planning commission for review August 6, and officially submit the final report to the planning commission Tuesday, August 14, and to the city council Wednesday, August 15.

Seven property owners in the Market/Main Streets District spoke, mostly in favor. Two property owners, Dennis Cawthorne and Dan Musser, III, did not speak for or against, but disagreed with the process of determining whether the city would adopt the districts. Mr. Cawthorne, a downtown property owner, noted that the historic district wouldn’t be successful without the support of the local property owners, and suggested those owning property in the districts should be represented in a vote. Such a vote should be weighted toward their views, he said, because they would be most impacted. He noted, also, that 81% of Mackinac Island already is protected as a National Historic Landmark by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, which he chairs.

Grand Hotel President Dan Musser III said the hotel and its properties works diligently to preserve its history, and he agreed with Mr. Cawthorne, suggesting a vote be weighted on the taxable values of proposed district property owners.

“I don’t know where I stand on this historic district,” Mr. Musser said, “but I do feel, after thinking about Dennis’ comments, that those people in the district have to be behind it.”

Main Street property owner Cathy Arbib was against forming the district and said property owners have had the right to develop their property to its potential. Now the city was changing the rules, she said, and would prevent other property owners from developing their property.

“I want to be able to do with my property what I feel I need to do within the zoning now,” Mrs. Arbib said. “We don’t need to change the rules now.”

Anthony “Mac” Trayser represented his family, who owns several Main Street buildings. He stressed the importance of preserving the historic character of Mackinac Island. He added that the property owners who benefit from the history of Mackinac Island should hold the responsibility to preserve that history.

“To not establish the historic district at this time,” Mr. Trayser said, “will be catastrophe to that future.”

Trish Martin spoke on behalf of Trinity Church, which owns two properties within the historic district, on Fort Street. The members of the congregation voted in favor of the establishment of the historic downtown district. As a member of the planning commission, she attended a mock trial of the historic district hearing.

“The process is flexible enough to allow necessary alterations and changes,” she said, “without destroying the historic integrity of the buildings.”

Main Street property owner Pat Pulte noted that he’s willing to fight for his rights, and Americans have the right to do what they choose, but by owning property on Mackinac Island, they also have a responsibility.

“If you’re on Mackinac Island, you’ve inherited the caretaking privilege of looking over a particular piece of property,” he said. “But it doesn’t just belong to me, or our world, it belongs to the whole world, and I don’t think we have the right to tear down buildings and change façades on a national monument.”

Market Street property owner Wes Maurer, Jr. said establishing the historic district is a good first step, and working toward a consensus of all citizens about what will be preserved and how it will be preserved is a good second step.

“I don’t think the city can afford to be ambivalent about this important issue,” he said. “Like it or not, history is what we are about, and I think it’s the responsibility of this municipality to protect it and preserve it.”

He also said he believes that all residents of Mackinac Island, and the state, should have a stake in the decision.

Resident Doug Rearick was the only property owner from the proposed West End District to speak. He explained that he took pride in preserving the historic appearance of his property, but under the guidelines of a historic district, he would not have been allowed to make the changes that he made to his cottage.

“If we were in a historic district,” Mr. Rearick said, “we would not been able to do as we did. We feel what we did was very architecturally solid with what the Island looks like.”

Twelve members of the general public spoke at the hearing, all showing support for forming the districts: Nancy May, Candi Dunnigan, Brian Dunnigan, Maeve Croghan, Cordie Puttkammer, John Davey, Lorna Straus, Chris Straus, Melissa Straus, Louis Putz, Moira Croghan, and A. Robert Spitzer. Twelve letters were received by the committee prior to the public hearing, all in favor of the districts, although none of the letters were from property owners in the district. Letters were from Chris McHuge, The Michigan Historical Preservation Network, Richard Ott, the United States Department of the Interior, Nancy May, Susan Allen, Donald Hinman, Barb Fisher, two from Moira Croghan, Edward English, and Past Perfect Inc. the firm that conducted the historical survey.

The Mackinac Island Plan- ning Commission can make a recommendation on the proposed historic districts, but only the city council can approve them. The city has one year from the public hearing to make a decision, or the entire process must be started over.

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