BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
When the city appears before an administrative law judge to defend a Historic District Commission decision next week, city attorney Thomas Ryan will defend it
“The alternative is to have no one there,” said City Manager Jonathan Smith at the Nov. 27 meeting. “If no one is there, there’s a good chance the decision would be reversed.”
“I think we need Tom’s help,” said Council member Eric Haven, who joined in the 6-0 vote to have Ryan represent the city at the hearing.
Council member Scott Reynolds, who was elected last month, said he was concerned with Ryan’s record of service to the city, especially in regards to a Freedom of Information lawsuit with which the city is involved in Circuit Court, and asked about a “plan B.”
Smith said he could attend instead. Mayor Steven Percival said he would rather send a lawyer.
Lehman Investment Company, which owns the Clarkston Mills on W. Washington Street downtown and includes developer Ed Adler, applied to the HDC for a Certificate of Appropriateness to demolish its house at 42 W. Washington, just to the west of the Mills building, and create an empty lot.
The commission denied the certificate with a 3-2 vote on Aug. 8, saying in a letter to Lehman Investment the demolition and resulting open space would “negatively affect the character of the historic district and in particular adjacent historic resources.”
Also, the owners did not submit a plan for redevelopment, so the commission “had no way to determine whether future proposed new construction on this lot would meet the standards.”
The house is more than 50 years old and could be worth reconsidering as a historic resource “as recording an important place and time within the community,” according to the HDC letter.
The owners appealed the decision to the State Historic Preservation Office, saying the HDC was inconsistent in its decisions – in 2004, the commission approved demolition of a home built in 1957 on Waldon Road.
The house was built in 1953 and includes a residential structure and garage, both cinder-block construction, with “no redeeming historical structure or architectural features,” according to the property owners’ brief.
They also said then Commissioner Cara Catallo has a “personal animus” against the developer stemming from a stop-work order placed in April 2015 on a tree-clearing operation on vacant land at M-15 and Waldon Road.
A consent agreement was filed in June 2016, removing the stop-work order and requiring the property owners to grade the property, clean rubbish, debris, branches, wood chips, garbage, and vegetation, and plant, mow, and maintain grass, as well as plant nine redbud trees at the owner’s expense. Under the agreement, neither admitted liability or fault, with both paying their own costs, expenses, and attorney fees
Adler and Lehman Investment Company applied this past spring to rezone 42 W. Washington from residential to commercial for use as a wedding and meeting place, in connection with its Clarkston Mills property.
City Council voted on May 22 to deny the rezoning request. Their reasons included zoning ordinance standards were not satisfied, the Planning Commission recommended against it, Master Plan is against non-residential intrusions into residential areas, preserve property values, the plan was incompatible with adjacent residential areas, a petition against rezoning was signed by every adjacent property owner, the Mill Pond serves as a natural dividing line, and there was already sufficient commercially zoned property in the city.
The hearing on HDC’s demolition denial is scheduled for Dec. 14 in Lansing. The administrative law judge could make a ruling at the hearing, which could go against the city, Smith said.
“He could throw it out then and there,” he said.
Haven said the commission’s decision should be defended.
“It could have a tremendous impact – it would demolish what I think is a beautiful home,” he said.
BY PHIL CUSTODIO