Group researches historic district

Mark Sweppenheiser

Big Rapids Historic District Study Committee works to define boundaries

BIG RAPIDS — Owning and operating one of Big Rapids’ most historically significant homes, Jane Johansen understands the importance of preservation.

Johansen completed renovating the Comstock House, now a bed and breakfast, in 2007. The house originally was built in 1896 by D.F. Comstock, who also built the Nisbett Building in downtown Big Rapids.

Feeding off her passion to preserve timeless architecture from years past, Johansen is chair of the Big Rapids Historic District Study Committee, which is in the process of defining borders for a potential historic district within the city.

“To me, (a historical district) is about preserving our architectural heritage for us, our children and for everybody else beyond us,” Johansen said. “We have a lot of beautiful architecture in this town and it should be preserved, because when it’s gone, it’s gone. … (The Comstock House) came really close to not being here. This house truly is one of a kind.”

The committee, which consists of Johansen, Anne Hogenson, Dr. Clay Dedeaux, Mary Loesch, Richard Cochran and Matthew R. Nikkari, has been charged with evaluating residential and commercial neighborhoods near downtown to determine if the buildings qualify for the formation of such a district. The group was appointed by city commissioners in June to research the idea and has been meeting for the past several months.

Currently they are working to determine the potential boundaries of the district. The area they are researching lies between Maple and Chestnut streets and Warren and Winter avenues. The proposed area is subject to change.

“Basically, we’re still trying to define our boundaries,” Johansen said. “We can’t go much further in the process until we define where the district would be. Once we get our district lines, then we can start doing research and answering residents’ questions. … The area we’re looking at was one of the first plats in the area.”

Once research is completed, the group will present its findings in a report to city commissioners for review and approval. The document will outline proposed boundaries of a historic district, contain a photographic inventory of buildings within the proposed district and determine the number of historic and non-historic resources within the district. The district also requires approval at the state level.

“We don’t’ have any preconceived notions of when this should be done. A lot of that will depend on the research aspect of it,” said Mark Sweppenheiser, director of the Big Rapids Department of Neighborhood Services and the city’s liaison to the committee. “We’re going to be going back through the archives to try to find out when a house was originally constructed, previous owner information, determine if it’s a contributing structure or non-contributing structure and whether it has historical significance or if it’s been altered so much that there really isn’t much architectural significance there.”

If a historic district is formed, homes within the designated area would be subject to regulations as determined by a committee, which may include adhering to limited exterior improvements, landscaping restrictions and more. Any improvements made to a home within the district would have to be approved by a board of review.

Homeowners within the district would receive the benefit of increased property values as well as live in a desirable neighborhood, Sweppenheiser said.

“The benefit of a historic district is that they work,” Sweppenheiser said. “They protect property values, ensure that your neighbor is not going to detract from your home and more. There are individuals out there who are extremely attracted to historic homes for purchase and rehab.”

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Posted by Jonathan Eppley

Jonathan Eppley is news editor for the Pioneer. He designs and copy edits the Pioneer daily, and manages staff in the evening. Eppley joined the Pioneer staff in 2010. He can be reached at (231) 592-8357 or at jeppley@pioneergroup.com.

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