2017-02-10 / News

Zoning Can’t Be Used To Preserve Historic Chimney

The lesson learned in a lawsuit involving preservation of a chimney at the Stonecliffe mansion is that the city’s zoning regulations cannot be used to mandate preservation of structures. Historic buildings and elements of them can only be preserved by force if they are in a historic district.

A city Planning Commission order that the Inn at Stonecliffe must rebuild a historic chimney was overturned by Mackinac County 11th Circuit Court Judge William Carmody in a ruling issued orally from the bench November 9, city attorney Tom Evashevski told the Planning Commission February 7. The judge said requiring such preservation is beyond the scope of zoning, which is used to regulate new construction and further development, and to set architectural standards. The only way to require preservation, he noted, is through historic districts.

The Inn at Stonecliffe is not within any of the city’s three historic districts.

The ruling means Stonecliffe owner Bob Pulte does not have to reconstruct a historic chimney that he demolished. During repairs of the building, built in 1905, the Planning Commission had ordered Mr. Pulte to preserve two intricate brick chimneys. He had rebuilt one chimney on the building for about $92,000, but had to demolish a larger one, he told the city, because it was deteriorated beyond repair.

The Planning Commission rebuked him for demolishing the chimney without a permit and ordered the chimney rebuilt. Rebuilding it would cost as much as $250,000, Mr. Pulte said, and he appealed for relief to the Zoning Board of Appeals, comprised of the members of the city council. The ZBA upheld the Planning Commission April 13, 2016, and Mr. Pulte filed suit in 11th Circuit Court May 3.

The city had based its ruling on an architectural review conducted by city architect Rick Neumann, who contended the chimneys were important to the historic integrity of the building. But Mr. Pulte argued in court that the city’s guidelines for architectural review did not specify chimneys.

Judge Carmody, while praising the city’s endeavors to preserve historic structures on Mackinac Island, said, even if the review ordinance did specify the preservation of chimneys, zoning in Michigan is used for new construction and development and cannot be used to stop historic structures or elements from being removed or neglected.

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