Commercial Record

Township historic district has pros, cons


Should Saugatuck Township establish a Local Historic District at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River, which a new report traces to the outcome of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Section 106 Review of North Shore of Saugatuck’s proposed boat basin?

Advantages, says the 28-page document prepared by the planning commission’s special committee on rural character and conservation at the township board’s behest and shared with it Jan. 12,


• Michigan PA 169 of 1970 provides for municipalities to establish such districts, recognizing historic preservation to be a public purpose local governments may by ordinance “regulate the construction addition, alteration, repair, moving excavation and demolition of resources” within them.

• Its creation would require appointing a study committee to prepare a report recommending boundaries for such a district. The township already has a Battaglia and Hawkins Ethnographic Study that satisfies initial PA 169 requirements.

• It would establish standards and guidelines for the treatment of cultural landscapes.

• It is supported by goals of the Tri-Community Master Plan.

• It would be consistent with local, regional and state preservation, conservation and recreational efforts for the Kalamazoo River.

• The Saugatuck-Douglas History Center and state groups could be potential partners.

• It might create federal grant funding opportunities via the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) forwarded to the National Park Service.


• It would be controversial due to its close association with the North Shore development. Some may recall how the township’s 2006 passage of restrictive R-4 zoning was tested by Aubrey McClendon, the land’s past owner, resulting in lawsuits claiming it unconstitutionally singled out just his parcels.

It resulted in R-4’s elimination, a U.S. District Court settlement allowing McClendon (now North Shore) to create and sell lot splits on its land north of the Kalamazoo River mouth, and near-ruinous litigation fees for the township.

• Potential opposition by property owners within it. (See above, but parties other than Jeff Padnos-owned North Shore would fall within the district too.)

• Substantial staff and financial commitments. Does the township have human, time and fiscal resources to fulfill still more bureaucratic requirements?

• Need for resident volunteers. A Historic District Commission requires at least five members, one of whom must be a Michigan-licensed architect, plus a separate study committee.

• Lengthy process. First the study committee would need to prepare a preliminary report including photographic inventory and information, plus evaluate resources using National Register of Historic Places criteria.

Once submitted to the planning commission, SHPO, the Michigan Historical Commission and state review board, the committee must wait at least 60 days to hold a public hearing.

It would then have up to one year to submit a final report to the township board, which could vote to approve or reject the proposed local district.

The property identified by the ethnographic study as the Kalamazoo River Mouth Traditional Cultural Property encompasses an extensive area that includes both sides of the river from Lake Michigan to beyond the swing bridge in New Richmond, though the study committee would not be required to adhere to those boundaries.

The current area being considered involves the cultural resources of the living community of the Gun Lake Tribe. “The board may want to consider whether the township has any special responsibility to preserving the cultural resources of the Gun Lake Tribe,” the report says.

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