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Forming historic district discussed

Noah HausmannMay 26, 2019

The neighborhood is still unsure about whether or not to apply to be a historic district — that was the consensus from the East Ludington Avenue property owners who attended a meeting Wednesday evening.

About 17 of the estimated 80 property owners met at the Ludington Library to discuss the possibility of a section of East Ludington Avenue applying to join the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district.

Many of the property owners said they might be in favor of the idea, however they wanted more time to verify the facts themselves, discuss the issue with their neighbors and weigh the proposal.

The campaign to create the historic district is led by Ray Madsen, who mailed invitations to all the property owners in the proposed district — East Ludington Avenue from Delia to Staffon streets — although some of the letters were not received.

Madsen lives in a historic home on Gaylord Avenue, but he wants East Ludington Avenue to be the district because of its significance as the blocks where a majority of Ludington’s lumber barons built their late-Victorian houses.

The meeting included a presentation from Mallory Bower, a representative from the advocacy nonprofit the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, and Kathrine Kolokithas and Nathan Nietering of the State Historic Preservation Office. The representatives explained the three levels of historic designation — the National Register, Michigan’s Historical Markers and local historic district commissions.

They affirmed that what Madsen is proposing — joining the National Register — would be an honorific designation that would not limit what property owners can and cannot do with their buildings. All historic preservation efforts would be voluntary.

“This designation is honorary — it is not protective,” Bower said. “Because it is only honorary, there really isn’t any type of oversight on the properties. I always hate to say it, but it’s true — National Register properties are demolished on a regular basis. It is honorary —it’s something to put on a plaque or sign.”

Madsen said he’d buy the plaque. He’s offering to pay for all the expenses related to applying for the historic district — an estimated $10,000 to $20,000 — using the Ludington Beautification Fund he set up through the Community Foundation for Mason County. The biggest expense would be hiring a consultant to research the history of each property in the proposed district and to handle the application process.

“I don’t want to do that unless you all agree this is something that you think would benefit the community and you’re onboard,” Madsen told the property owners.

The representatives said that a district joining the National Register does not require creating a local historic district commission that would oversee and decide what changes can be made to the properties. That is an option, but it’s not an option Ludington would have to pursue, they said.

“The relationship between them is that we will often see communities that will have a National Register district and a local district, but there are countless communities that only have a National Register district,” Kolokithas said. “Hart, as a nearby example, they don’t have a local district, but their downtown and some of their residential neighborhoods are a National Register district only.”

Having a historic district would help preserve and celebrate the stories of the past, and it could also benefit the local economy by encouraging heritage tourism, Bower said.

“Historic preservation can be about community, and it can also be about economic development,” Bower said.

Property owner Linda Wallace said that “in theory” she is in favor of the National Register designation, however, she is concerned that heritage tourism could bring more additional visitors to Ludington than its infrastructure can accommodate.

“That’s my only concern about it,” Wallace added, “that in bringing more people into our community, are we going to lose some of the flavor that has kept some of us here or called some of us back? If I were a tourist, I would love to come here. But because I live here, tourist season is rough.”

Property owner Gary Iteen said he supports the idea.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to show Ludington off and make it really hop, more than it ... already does,” Iteen said. “The listing is meant to be a no-strings-attached honorary (designation), and I for one am totally in favor.”

Kolokithas said Madsen could pursue applying for the National Register regardless of what the property owners think. There is also a lengthy application review process, during which the federal government would send letters to each of the property owners so that, if they wish, they can file formal objections, which would be considered by the government’s review board.

She also said that after the plaque is installed, there are no ongoing costs for a district to be on the National Register.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Madsen said he plans to mail all the property owners another letter to summarize what was discussed at the meeting and also send informational brochures. In the letter, he’ll ask that if any of the property owners “absolutely” don’t want the historic district idea to move forward, that they let him know.

There will be another meeting of the property owners, Madsen said, which he will announce the date of in a letter. Bower recommended the meeting be in mid- to late-July, so the representatives can attend again.

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