Committee recommends creating historic district for Ann Arbor's Germantown neighborhood
A study committee evaluating the historic significance of Ann Arbor's Germantown neighborhood has completed its research and recommended in a new report that the area be granted official historic district status.
The committee, appointed by the Ann Arbor City Council last September after controversy arose over the proposed City Place development, submitted a 28-page report to the city's Planning Commission on Tuesday.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
The report suggests the district is significant for the physical link it maintains to the early settlement period of Ann Arbor, its association with early German life in Ann Arbor and its historic ties to several past civic and political leaders who lived in houses in the area.
"I think the district is important for its architecture," said Kristine Kidorf, a Detroit-based historic preservation consultant who has been working with the city on the proposed historic district.
"It's very intact architecturally and represents a really interesting period of Ann Arbor's history from the settlement days up until the development of the university and the development of the city really," Kidorf said. "There's a lot from the early families and a couple of early mayors that lived there, and early political leaders and judges. Those are the houses that they lived in and they tell Ann Arbor's story."
The proposed district includes properties running along both sides of South Fourth and South Fifth avenues, south of William Street, and extending to properties on the south side of Packard. That's a larger district than the study area originally encompassed last fall.
"We actually had a lot of debate about boundaries and things like that," said Patrick McCauley, chairman of the study committee and a board member for the city's Historic District Commission.
"We felt that the story of the neighborhood, historically, included that south side of Packard, which was developed pretty early on," he said. "There were some quality houses that were basically built by the founders of Ann Arbor on that side of Packard. Believe me, we went back and forth on all of this. There was quite a bit of debate over what to include and what not to include."
The committee's recommendation remains in a mandatory 60-day waiting period. The report has been submitted to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, which must give its blessing to create the district, as well as the city's Historic District Commission and Planning Commission. By early May, there will be a public hearing, after which the creation of the district will go to the City Council for approval.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
A moratorium on any demolition or development work within the proposed district remains in effect through Aug. 6.
If approved, the so-called Fourth and Fifth Avenue Historic District would be Ann Arbor's 15th historic district. Some others in existenceÂ include Main Street, Cobblestone Farm, Northern Brewery, the Old Fourth Ward and the Old West Side.
City Planner Jill Thacher, the city's historic preservation coordinator, said if Germantown officially becomes a historic district, all future building work beyond basic repairs would need to be reviewed by the city's Historic District Commission. If the work proposed is not appropriate or doesn't meet certain standards, the commission can reject it based on historic grounds alone.
Residents along Fourth and Fifth avenues took it upon themselves to begin branding their neighborhood as "Germantown" in recent months as development threatened the historic integrity of century-old structures along Fifth Avenue. Through research, they found the neighborhood - including houses slated for demolition last year - have historic worth.
One example is the Beakes house at 415 S. Fifth Ave., believed to be one of the oldest surviving houses in the city. The house, which dates back to the 1830s, has served at different times as home for two of Ann Arbor's mayors - Hiram Beakes, who was mayor from 1873 to 1875, and Samuel Beakes, who was mayor from 1888 to 1890, as well as the editor of the Ann Arbor Argus.
On Fourth Avenue is the castle-like Bethlehem United Church of Christ, which was dedicated in 1896 by German congregants whose ancestors first settled in the area in the 1820s and 1830s. They built two other churches, along with some of the earliest houses in the neighborhood.
Several members of the Ann Arbor City Council, including Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward, have gone on record indicating support for creating a historic district. Hohnke said the committee's report is good news.
"I think that's great, and I appreciate all of the work that the residents have put into that," he said. "These are volunteers that spent a lot of time looking at the historic contributing resources there."
The proposed district doesn't encompass the portion of the Germantown neighborhood where a developer plans to knock down old buildings to build an apartment complex called the Moravian.
The district does include the area where developer Alex de Parry had proposed demolishing seven houses to make way for City Place. De Parry recently announced plans to revise his project, which now is called Heritage Row. He plans to follow federal guidelines for historic renovations and preserve the historic integrity of the houses while adding three new brick apartment buildings behind them.
De Parry said he's prepared to take his project before the city's Historic District Commission for approval if the area becomes a historic district.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529.