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Historic District Dilemmas for Macomb

Rich Egger

Macomb's downtown historic district presents the city with a chance to show off something unique. It also presents some challenges.

The big challenge facing aldermen this week concerned the level of oversight the city should have when building owners want to make changes to their facades.

Ron Purdum asked the city for permission to cover the seven-foot tall windows on the second floor of his building at 113 South Side Square.

“I see nothing wrong with it,” Purdum told aldermen. “It would eliminate the glass breakage. It would eliminate the heat loss or most of it.”

Purdum said the heat loss is costing him hundreds of dollars a year. He said it's been a problem for eight-to-ten years but did not explain why he waited so long to do something about it.

The Historic Preservation Commission denied his request in June. Purdum appealed to the city council, which on July 2 concurred with the HPC.

“I'm not exactly for telling businesses what they should or shouldn't do but since the rule is in place all I can do is follow it,” said Alderman At Large Don Wynn.

Wynn, Kay Hill, Thomas Koch, Dave Dorsett, Tim Lobdell and Dennis Moon voted to uphold the HPC ruling. Ryan Hansen, Lou Gilbert, and Clay Hinderliter were opposed.

“Somehow we've gone from 'This is a guideline' to 'This is a regulation and if you break it, it's a misdemeanor,'” said Hinderliter.

The HPC and some aldermen suggested Purdum seek a forgivable loan through the city's TIF District fund to pay for new windows but he resisted the suggestion.

Purdum also said he opposed the idea of creating the historic district, which was approved by a majority of downtown business owners in 2009. Purdum said he did not voice his opposition at that time and did not cast a vote.

Another challenge facing the city is to explain what look it's seeking for the historic district. That issue was raised by downtown business owner Sue Tex during the discussion over Purdum's request.

“Which period are you restoring to? Which year -- 1912? 1890 when it was built? 1920? 1930? 1940? 1950, '60, '70? Which restoration period are you going through for the square?” Tex asked.

Fifth Ward Alderman Dave Dorsett, who serves as the city council's liaison to the HPC, said the city is not asking property owners to move forward or back with their buildings but -- for the most part -- to keep them looking as they do now.

Second Ward Alderwoman Kay Hill suggested the city is striving for a certain look and feel with the historic district.

“You go someplace like Galena that's put a lot of effort into historic preservation and it's beautiful,” Hill said.

“It was my thought that that's what we were trying to accomplish with downtown Macomb ... preserving that historic architecture.”


Rich is TSPR's News Director.