Committee Proposes Historic District Boundary Changes

Monday, November 26, 2018, 7:52 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: Properties considered for inclusion in the special boundary study report.

Should the boundaries of East Lansing’s Oakwood Historic District be changed, removing a series of properties near Valley Court Park and adding about 80 more, mostly owner-occupied houses and the Hannah Community Center?

That will be the subject of a special public hearing to be held this Wednesday night.

Properties in designated East Lansing historic districts are restricted in terms of potential changes that would be visible from public streets. According to the City’s page on historic preservation, if alterations to a property in a district will be visible from a street, “construction or alteration is expected to be done in a historically appropriate manner” and “materials used for new construction should be compatible with existing, historic materials.”

Structural changes that require special pre-approval can include new roofing, replacement doors and windows, the addition of front and side walkways, construction or repair of porches, and more. Properties that are taken out of historic districts would no longer be required to follow these requirements. Properties that are absorbed in would have to meet them. This impacts not only the properties themselves but those around them.

East Lansing currently has six historic districts (see complete map) including Oakwood, which is the second-oldest platted neighborhood in the city. The Oakwood Historic district currently includes Valley Court Park and the area wrapping around it and extending north several blocks. The map below shows the existing district bordered in orange. (See a full-size map on page 24 of this PDF.)

To some extent, the City of East Lansing used historic districts in the past to try to stabilize neighborhoods where owner-occupied homes were turning into student rental properties. Oakwood was one such district.

The changes proposed in the draft report of the study committee recommends removing some rental properties and newer owner-occupied condos from the Oakwood Historic District and adding a number of historic owner-occupied homes farther north and west that are not very near rental areas.

Proposed additions include properties with houses on Baldwin Court, Hillcrest Avenue, Southlawn Avenue, Sunset Lane, Westlawn Avenue, and Wildwood Drive, as well as the Hannah Community Center, shown below. (See complete list here.) Some of the properties fall in the Oakwood Neighborhood, and others in the Glencairn Neighborhood.

This week’s public hearing will be hosted by the East Lansing Historic District Boundary Study Committee, a team of four local experts and East Lansing residents. The group was charged five years ago by East Lansing’s City Council with recommending whether the boundaries of the Oakwood Historic District should be changed.

City Council will have the final word on the matter. According to state law, a simple majority of Council can change the boundaries.

The members of the special study committee include:

  • Amanda Harrell-Seyburn, Oakwood Historic District resident, Associate at the East Lansing design firm east arbor architecture (which uses lowercase for its name);
  • Dan Bollman, founder of east arbor architecture, architect, and current Chairperson of the East Lansing Planning Commission;
  • Jim Robertson, Glencairn resident and MDOT Senior Staff Archeologist with upwards of three decades of professional experience in cultural resources management and historic preservation; and
  • Doug Jester, former mayor of East Lansing, current resident of downtown, and Principal at 5 Lakes Energy, a consulting firm.

Back in 2013, when the committee was given its charge, part of the impetus for the review was a perceived need by City staff to accommodate the since-failed City Center II project. That project would have required several old houses along Evergreen Avenue to be removed from the Oakwood Historic District.

Today, the possible Park Place project would require the same removal of those properties from Historic District protection. The houses, shown below, have been rented for students to many years. The list of properties recommended for removal does not include these.

The committee’s draft report has been provided to the City’s Planning Commission and the State Historic Preservation Office for review and comment. After this process is completed, the committee will prepare its final report. From there, the matter will go to City Council for a vote.

The public hearing will begin at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, November 28, in Courtroom 2 of City Hall. (The address is 101 Linden Street, East Lansing.) The public will have an opportunity to comment at the meeting, and ELi will be covering the event.

 

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Correction: This story originally reported that Amanda Harrell-Seyburn is the Chair of the committee; she has been chair of the Historic District Commission but the committee has no chair. Additionally, we identified her as an architect, but she wrote to let us know "I am not (yet) an architect." She expects to receive that official designation soon, as she is completing licensing requirements now. Additionally, we corrected descriptions of the list of properties recommended for removal (see the list here) and added, for clarification, that the Evergreen Avenue properties owned by the DDA are not on the recommended removal list.