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Mackinac Island Council Approves New Historic Districts

There are two new historic districts on Mackinac Island. The districts were approved after years of debate and will take effect in 20 days. They'll give the island the power to stop the demolition of old buildings and have more stringent historic requirements for renovations.

Until now there were no protections for the 200-year-old city in the Straits of Mackinac. Much of the island is state park but the majority of buildings are concentrated in the downtown.

The historic districts were approved by a 5-to-1 vote with almost no debate. The only councilor who commented on his vote during the meeting was Jason St. Onge who wasn't convinced the districts were needed but decided to err on the side of caution figuring the rules could always be relaxed.

"I've never met a piece of paper that couldn't be changed but I never saw a building that could be rebuilt."

A number of business owners oppose the additional burden on property rights. They say they've been good stewards of the island and don't need another layer of government oversight.

The only opponent who spoke during the public hearing was Steve Moskwa. He owns a bar on the island and cast the lone no vote on the study commission last year when the recommendation to create historic districts was made to the council. He told the council tonight that some of the buildings on Main Street are old fishing shanties that even present safety issues.

"They were built in a hurry," said Moskwa. "They were put on cedar posts in the ground, maybe a few stones below the cedar posts, and then they were built up."

A survey of the island found that 140 buildings were lost between 1972 and 2002. The island's status as a national landmark was put on a watch list because of this trend and the lack of protections.