BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Editor
Chris Moore says he went through all the proper channels to install fencing at his South Holcomb Road residence, but says he keeps running into roadblocks from the Clarkston government and Historic District Commission.
The city and Historic District Commission see it otherwise.
Moore claims during a meeting with city officials last month, Historic District Commission Chairperson Jim Meloche threatened to bulldoze the fence.
“The simple answer is it never happened – I said nothing like that,” Meloche said. “And I think the mayor will tell you the same thing as he was standing beside me during the very brief conversation I had with Mr. Moore.
“That is not the way I express myself. The subject of the conversation was a fence, very much out of scale with bulldozer work. I said the easterly fence had to be moved to the location approved by the HDC as shown on the applicant’s site plan. I asked (Clarkston City Manager) Jonathan (Smith) at the site to check with (Building Official) Craig Strong about shutting the fence installation down until this could be resolved. I have an email from Jonathan that verifies this. It’s noteworthy the applicant has moved on from his original claim that I threatened to ‘bulldoze’ his project.”
Today, the issue is nearing the end, according to Meloche.
“I think it is half-resolved, and on a short path toward a successful resolution,” Meloche said. “There are two issues in play at 61 South Holcomb, covered by a single application from Chris Moore: a retaining wall that was a surprise to everyone but Chris, because it was not shown on any of the first five site plans he submitted. It is an addition to the streetscape that is inappropriate for his neighborhood in both scale and materials. We have the authority to require him to remove it, but instead chose to help Chris mitigate its mass by screening and breaking up the view of it with appropriate plantings.
“The HDC voted at our last meeting (on October 12) to issue a Notice to Proceed for that part of the project. Resolved.
“The HDC issued a Certificate of Appropriateness (CoA) for the fence on Sept. 27. It was supposed to be installed in the side yard, flush with the face of the residence. Chris, however, chose to install about eight or 10 feet closer to the street, in a position that puts it in the front yard. It is now in violation of a motion of the Planning Commission, as well as a motion of the HDC, but, here again, we are working on an accommodation that will not require the fence to be removed and reinstalled in the approved location.”
Moore said he has spent the past 5-6 months rehabilitating the exterior of the entire property and has gone through all the proper application processes.
“As city manager, I have been working with Mr. Moore and will continue to work with him to assist wherever possible in the completion of his construction project,” said Smith. “That said, the Historic District Commission is an independent organization that regulates construction of new structures and alterations to existing resources within the city’s Historic District. They make decisions based on guidelines from the Department of the Interior, without influence from either the city manager or city council. Once appointed by council, the commission effectively reports to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in Lansing. Homeowners wishing to appeal an HDC decision are directed to SHPO.”
At the Sept. 27 Clarkston City Council meeting, Moore spoke about the issues facing his property.
“I am a concerned citizen and I’d like to tell you my story,” said Moore. “Living in the village with my family for the past 11 years, I had heard rumors regarding city council and HDC lack of transparency, inconsistency and unfairness. Not until recently did my family experience this. The HDC has unanimously approved false government documents for at least the past five months. For example, they stated landscaping and planting are not under the purview of the HDC. And, they omitted their statement that fencing for houses is under the purview of the planning commission. Another time, there is an entire paragraph added which was not said verbally or cited during the meeting. Another time, they omitted two critical decisions about our rehabilitation project. They approved the fence and aesthetics we proposed to them and gave a conditional CoA for our project. They left both of these out of the minutes.”
Meloche and Historic District Commission Secretary Michael Moon responded.
“Plantings are not customarily evaluated by the HDC,” said Meloche. “In the case or 61 South Holcomb, the homeowner erected an inappropriate retaining wall constructed of an engineered product known as ‘ledgestone’ or ‘outcropping.’ The wall was not shown on any of the five site plans we received and went up very fast. The plantings discussions were intended to help the applicant mitigate the negative impact of this wall within the Historic District.”
“The applicant never verbally or in writing indicated plans for such a massive structure with respect to the house,” Moon added. “Also, as is stated in the HDC brochure which was given to (Moore) early on, removal of large trees and shrubs and plantings are included in the purview of the HDC. Therefore, commissioners on the HDC would never say that.”
Moore also questioned if Meloche and Moon could make decisions after their terms expired June 30 without reappointment. Meloche and Moon were reappointed by the mayor and council at the October 11 city council meeting.
“I was asked to review my ZBA (zoning board of appeals) application by Jim Meloche, and I stated it’s my understanding the HDC does not review ZBA applications,” Moore said. “He said they do not but they want to know more information and how it relates to the HDC. I asked Meloche why he received the ZBA application. He stated he is on an email list and receives them. I advised the ZBA application does not involve HDC approvals.”
Again, Meloche and Moon answered Moore.
“Although the applicant keeps insisting that the ZBA application has ‘nothing to do with the HDC,’ the HDC is mentioned five times in the application I received,” Meloche said.
“The applicant has complained the commissions and boards do not communicate,” said Moon. “These comments of his indicate that the commissions and boards do communicate.”
Moore concluded the Sept. 27 meeting saying he wants the government misconduct investigated.
“My request is simple,” said Moore. “Investigate the misconduct I have revealed here for all individuals involved. Cease all HDC meetings and actions until a proper structure, bylaws, duties, roles, policies, procedures are in place. Protect your constituents and community from the continued harassment by the HDC.”
“This applicant refuses to acknowledge the facts of his interaction with the HDC,” said Moon. “The HDC has ‘bent over backwards’ in trying to help him find appropriate ways to accomplish his project. When he has not been definite with documentation or has balked at cooperating, the HDC has granted him more time to get collected rather than voting denial for something inappropriate like a fence in the front yard. The minutes are not a transcript, and the minutes do not contain everything said in a meeting. They show the discussion of a topic, all motions and votes and, particularly, what a CoA is being granted for. The Historic District Commission is only interested in doing what is for appropriate for each historic property. There are several benefits to living in a historic district. The most often cited is higher property values. These benefits are lost if the integrity of the district is not protected. That protection is at least in part the responsibility of the Historic District Commission.
“We, the commissioners take the responsibility seriously.”
The next Clarkston City Council meeting is scheduled for next Monday night, October 25 at City Hall at 7 p.m. Next planning commission meeting, Nov. 1.
PHOTO: Lianne and Chris Moore stand in front of their fencing project at their home on South Holcomb Road in the city’s Historic District. Photo provided