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As stated in Royal Oak’s municipal code, the Historic District Study Committee (HDSC) was established to “provide for the establishment of historic districts in carrying out the public purpose of historic preservation in the City of Royal Oak, consistent with the State of Michigan Local Historic Districts Act” (§ 82-3). A historic district is “an area, or group of areas not necessarily having contiguous boundaries, that contains one resource or a group of resources that are related by history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, or culture” (§ 82-3).
There are currently 13 historic districts within the city of Royal Oak that have been designated as such by the HDSC. These districts are listed in the Royal Oak municipal code Ch. 82, Articles IV-XVI:
Properties in Royal Oak cannot be designated historic without owner permission.
“In evaluating the significance of historic resources, the Committee shall be guided by the selection criteria for evaluation issued by the United States Secretary of the Interior for inclusion of resources in the National Register of Historic Places, as set forth in 36 CFR Part 60, and criteria established or approved by the Bureau, if any” (§82-9).
A property may be designated historic if it is a “publicly or privately owned building, structure, site, object, feature or open space that is significant in the history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, or culture of the City of Royal Oak, the State of Michigan, or the United States” (§82-2). More specifically, the HDSC applies criteria from the US Department of Interior,
National Park Service: “the quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and:
A. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the
broad patterns of our history; or
B. That are associated with the lives of significant persons in our past; or
C. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of
construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
D. That have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or
The most important benefit is preserving Royal Oak history, both in neighborhoods as well as downtown (and perhaps spurring cultural heritage tourism). According to the Michigan Historic Preservation Network’s report published in 2016, there is also less of a possibility of demolition, as well as some economic benefit, such as higher actualized resale value. The Local Historic Districts Act of 1970, which allows cities to establish ordinances to “regulate the construction, addition, alteration, repair, moving, excavation, and demolition of resources in historic districts within the limits of the local unit,” describes the following as reasons for historic preservation:
(a) Safeguard the heritage of the local unit by preserving 1 or more historic districts in
the local unit that reflect elements of the unit's history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, or culture.
(b) Stabilize and improve property values in each district and the surrounding areas.
(c) Foster civic beauty.
(d) Strengthen the local economy.
(e) Promote the use of historic districts for the education, pleasure, and welfare of the citizens of the local unit and of the state.” (§399.202)
The State of Michigan discontinued tax incentives for historic properties, but it is possible these incentives may be reinstated in the future.
Quite a bit of research, verification, and writing go into designating city properties as historic. The State requires a great deal of information and adherence to specific guidelines. (Consult the link to Local Historic Districts in Michigan manual for more information regarding everything that must go into the reports.) However, the HDSC cannot designate properties in Royal Oak as historic without owner permission. This is the first step. A property owner must first contact the HDSC and attend a meeting to request a study on the property, should they have a reasonable belief that their property meets a criterion/criteria for designation. The HDSC then conducts some research into the property to establish facts, and if enough is available, committee members visit the property to take measurements, photos, and observe documents or specific
features of the property. Research continues by the committee, who write a preliminary report following State guidelines. This preliminary report is sent to the State, City Planning Department, Mayor and City Commission. The State Historic Preservation Office must review the report (which could take six to eight weeks) and the HDSC must address any comments, and make additions or corrections before publishing the final report that is once again distributed to the State and City members. The Planning Department reads the report and meets with the HDSC to determine whether it recommends or disapproves of the study. If approved by the Planning Department, the report is forwarded to the City for their review at a City Commission meeting. When the City approves the historic designation, the property owner must be present at the meeting to verify their acceptance. Following this, the City Attorney prepares an ordinance regarding the property and the owner receives a copy of the final report for their records.
The HDSC charges a modest cost to cover the clerical work (primarily printing costs) involved in preparing the preliminary and final reports. If a property is designated historic, the property owner may choose to purchase approved official signage through the HDSC.
Changes to the interior, unless they affect the integrity of the exterior, do not require review, or approval by the Historic District Commission (HDC).
Changes to the exterior need to be addressed as follows:
• The request for change is taken to the Building Department at City Hall along with any contracts.
• The Building Department contacts the HDC chairperson.
• The HDC chairperson convenes its members, sets a date for review, and notifies the Building Department, who in turn, notifies the property owner of the date to attend this review. Contractors should be included.
• Following review and discussion, the HDC will vote to
2. Not approve
3. Partial approval
• Notification is given to the Building Department within the next business day.
• The HDC reports are the methods for noting changes in the historically designated properties for future reference.
Please contact our chairperson, Ruth Cleaveland, at 248-547-6217.