To preserve the architecture, character, and historical significance of structures in the City of Kalamazoo, certain areas have been designated as Historic Districts. Work performed within historic districts must conform to the Kalamazoo Historic District Commission (HDC) Standards and Guidelines for Rehabilitation and the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. Essentially this means that any exterior work should not alter the historic character of the building. Parts of the building should be repaired rather than replaced, and if replacement is absolutely necessary the replacement should match the original in shape, size, proportion and material.
There are five local historic districts in Kalamazoo: Haymarket, Rose Place, South Street, Stuart, Vine, and West Main Hill, Rose Place, South Street, Stuart, Vine, and West Main Hill. Our local Historic Districts must meet the same standards for historic integrity as National Register Historic Districts, but with an additional layer of locally enforced design review by the HDC.
The City of Kalamazoo is a Certified Local Government (CLG), part of a preservation partnership between local, state and national governments that focuses on promoting historic preservation at the grass roots level. The program is jointly administered by the National Park Service and the State Historic Preservation Offices in each state, with each local community working through a certification process to become recognized as a CLG. A CLG is an active partner in the Federal Historic Preservation Program and the opportunities it provides. This designation makes the city eligible for grants that assist historic preservation related planning activities.
Who is affected by historic districts?
Anyone who owns or manages properties of any kind in the historic districts is affected. This includes owner occupied homes as well as landlords. Contractors who work on buildings in the historic districts also have some restrictions placed on their work. Even non-historic buildings inside the historic district boundaries are reviewed for the impact the work will have on adjacent historic properties.
The Historic District Commission & Historic Preservation Coordinator
The Historic District Commission (HDC) was established under the authority of Michigan Public Act 169 and makes quasi-judiciary decisions on design review for proposed exterior work in local Historic Districts. The HDC is comprised of seven volunteers appointed to three-year terms by the Kalamazoo City Commission. The HDC must include a graduate of an accredited school of architecture with two years of experience or an architect who is registered in this state. All members must demonstrate an interest in and knowledge of historic preservation and historic building styles. All members must also be residents of the City of Kalamazoo. Typically, the majority of the Commissioners live or own property within the local historic districts.
The HDC meets the third Tuesday of every month at Kalamazoo City Hall, 241 West South Street starting at 5:00 p.m. The application deadline for project review is the second Tuesday at noon.
Kalamazoo is the smallest of the four cities in Michigan that employ a full time Historic Preservation Coordinator. Kalamazoo's Historic Preservation Coordinator advises and assists in a variety of projects ranging from neighborhood planning to regulation of projects in historic districts to helping property owners identify available tax credits and assistance. The Historic Preservation Coordinator supports the Historic Preservation Commission and Historic District Commission, as well as the Downtown Design Review Committee. Many project applications can also be approved administratively by the Historic Preservation Coordinator.
Projects can be submitted for review by the HDC by completing the appropriate application (see "planning a project" below). The HDC receives over 400 applications for exterior work each year. More than 80% of applications can be approved by the Historic Preservation Coordinator (usually within 24 hours), and the rest are sent on to the HDC for review at their monthly meeting. Overall, the HDC approves between 95% and 99% of the projects presented, matching the national average for historic design review commissions. HDC decisions carry the weight of law and may be appealed to the State Historic Preservation Review Board.
Planning a project
Before buying materials, beginning the work, or applying for a building permit (if needed), review the Historic District Standards & Guidelines and contact the Historic Preservation Coordinator at (269) 337-8804 to describe your project. Please provide as much detail as possible and provide drawings, photographs, and measurements if available.
If your project falls within the commission's standards for administrative approval, it can be approved by the Historic Preservation Coordinator (four out of five projects are approved administratively). These standards cover common repairs such as a new roof, rebuilding steps, installing storm windows and doors, some fencing projects, and satellite dish installation. Administrative approval eliminates the need for the property owner to attend an HDC meeting. Projects which also require a building permit will be charged an additional historic review fee for the permit.
If the proposed work falls outside of the standards, or if it falls within the categories that require Historic District Commission approval (signage, replacement, demolition, or addition), attendance at an HDC meeting is necessary. The HDC has established guidelines that are used to evaluate the appropriateness or impact of an alteration. A hearing fee of $85 is charged for all projects that go to the HDC.
Applications are available online, from the Community Planning & Development office, or by mail, fax, or email from the Coordinator. While filling out the application, please be as specific as possible and include all relevant support materials such as sketches of the proposed work, measurements, and other specifications. Complete materials and a clear submission are vital to a quick review. You may also provide your own additional photographs if available (either current or historic). The application materials are due at least one week prior to the scheduled HDC meeting (by noon on the second Tuesday). Your materials will be provided to the HDC in advance of the meeting. HDC members are encouraged to visit all the structures on the meeting agenda, so it is common to see them at the site in advance of the meeting. The Coordinator may also request a meeting to review your application and will take photographs of the structure/work area to be referenced at the HDC meeting.
You will receive written notification that your application will be reviewed at the HDC meeting, accompanied by a copies of the agenda, your application, and any additional information that the Coordinator has added. The agenda is divided into 15 minute sections, with each hearing scheduled at a specific time. It is recommended that you arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled hearing. If you are unable to attend the meeting, it is suggested that your contractor, architect, or another representative attend in your place. This representative must be able to make a binding decision on your behalf. This assures all participants that questions can be answered, additional information can be provided, modifications can be made as necessary, and that unnecessary delays are avoided. In the event that no representative attends and the HDC is left without needed information, the application will be postponed until the next regularly scheduled meeting.
Applications are reviewed individually at the meeting. The Historic Preservation Coordinator will present information about the project and the applicant or their representative will be invited to address the Commission adding any relevant details. The commissioners may have questions for the applicant and owner. A discussion then takes place in attempt to reach a full understanding of the project and its impact on the historic property. The discussion will be closed and the Commission will deliberate using Robert's Rules of Order. A commissioner will propose a motion and a vote will be taken. The motion requires a quorum of the appointed members to pass (four or more).
If the application is approved or approved with conditions the applicant will receive a Certificate of Appropriateness within ten days. Most often this is provided by the end of the week of the meeting. If the application is denied, the applicable Secretary of Interior's Standard is cited. In the letter of denial, the applicant will receive information on alternate work plans for the project, which may be acceptable to the commission. The letter will also include information on how the denial can be appealed to the State Historic Preservation Review Board as required by city ordinance and PA 169.
If damage occurs to a structure in a historic district that requires emergency repairs, measures may be taken to secure the structure without approval of the HDC or the Historic Preservation Coordinator. Examples include damage caused by a traffic accident, storm, or vandalism. In an emergency, materials may be put in place to cover damaged windows, doors, walls, or roofing. Tarpaulins may be put in place to prevent further damage. Temporary supports may be put in place, and dangling or loose elements may be removed, marked and stored.
The Historic Preservation Coordinator should be notified of damage to the structure on the first weekday following the damage. The Coordinator will visit the structure and arrange a site visit by HDC members to approve repairs if necessary. This will be done as quickly as possible in order to facilitate timely repairs of the structure. The Coordinator can be reached at any time by calling 337-8804 or sending an email. You will receive a prompt reply.
Within Kalamazoo's historic districts, any exterior work, except paint, paving or plantings requires review and approval of the Historic District Commission or the Historic Preservation Coordinator. Exterior projects completed without approval or with approval but not in compliance with the specified conditions are considered to be a violation of the housing code of the City of Kalamazoo Code of Ordinances.
When unapproved work is discovered, the Coordinator sends a letter to the property owner which cites the work in question, states why it is inappropriate, and proposes a remedy. There is no fee for this letter and any follow-up site visits or consultations.
If there is no response from the owner (or in the case of a rental property, the rental agent), a second letter is sent. The second letter carries with it an automatic charge of $70.
If there is no response from the owner or agent after the first two violation letters, an appearance ticket will be issued to the owner by the City Attorney's Office and the matter will move into the court system. Ultimately, the owner is the responsible party. Under extreme circumstances the court could order the unapproved work to be removed from the structure and the work redone at the owner's expense with a potential fine of up to $5000 (Michigan PA 169).
Questions about violations can be directed to the Coordinator at 337-8804 or email.
National Register sites
A National Register Historic District is honorary, it engages a review of effect on projects that utilize federal funds, and it makes income-producing properties eligible for a special tax credit.
Honorary - A building or collection of buildings must retain their historic character and be representative of a specific event or pattern of history on a local, state or national level in order to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Review of Effect - When structures and sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places may be effected by a project utilizing federal funds or requiring federal permitting or licensing, an additional review is required to determine whether or not the project will have an adverse effect. This regulation (the Section 106 Review process) mandates review of the potential adverse impact of a federally funded undertaking on a listed structure or site. The review process does not prevent the work from happening, it only requires review of the impact the project will have and a mitigation of adverse effects.
Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit - Income producing properties, which are part of a National Register Historic District, may be eligible for a Federal Income Tax credit. Buildings undergoing a "substantial rehabilitation" may be eligible for the credit and the proposed work on both the exterior and interior must be reviewed for appropriateness before it begins. Contact the Historic Preservation Coordinator at (269) 337-8804 for more information.
More information on National Register historic districts and individually listed properties is available at the State Historic Preservation Office.
Kalamazoo has eight historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places:
- Bronson Park - all the historic buildings facing the park plus the Federal Building, Ladies Library, and St. Luke's Church.
- Haymarket - downtown on East Michigan
- Henderson Park and West Main Hill
- Rose Place - a small court on South Rose in the Vine Neighborhood
- South Street - Full of grand, upper income homes
- Stuart Area - Stuart neighborhood
- Vine Area - part of the Vine Area local Historic District
Kalamazoo has seventeen sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places outside historic districts:
- Isaac Brown House at 427 South Burdick
- Engine House #3 at 607 Charlotte
- Fire House #4 at 526 North Burdick
- John Gibbs House at 3403 Parkview
- Henry Gilbert House at 415 West Lovell
- Kalamazoo State Hospital Water Tower
- Kalamazoo State Hospital Gatehouse
- Lawrence and Chapin Building at 201 North Rose
- David Lilienfeld House at 447 West South Street
- Marlborough apartments at 471 West South Street
- Masonic Temple at 309 North Rose
- Henry Montague House at 814 Oakland
- Portage Street Fire Station at 1249 Portage
- Rickman Hotel at 345 North Burdick
- Enoch Schafer House at 1437 Douglas
- Andrew Jackson Stevens House at 4024 Oakland Drive