Belding historic group denies Electrolux’s bid to demolish buildings

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 1:46 pm on Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Historic District Commission met Wednesday at the Pere Marquette Depot in Belding with representatives from Electrolux and the City of Belding on the issue of demolition of non-historic buildings on the Electrolux-owned property at the corner of Bridge and Main streets. — Daily News/Cory Smith

BELDING — After eight hours of deliberation and testimony on behalf of Electrolux and the city of Belding on Wednesday, the members of the Belding Historic District Commission (HDC) officially denied Electrolux’s application to demolish buildings not deemed historic by the commission.

At last week’s HDC meeting, the commission entered rulings that buildings 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 on the property, which include the original silk mill, clock tower and smokestack, had historical significance, officially preserving them from demolition by Electrolux.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Electrolux attorney Edward Perdue led a three-hour presentation on three criteria that had to be met for Electrolux to be granted its demolition application, which included testimony by four expert witnesses.

Belding City Attorney Gary Rentrop (top) listens as one of his witnesses, architectural expert Eugene Hopkins (bottom), testifies before the Historic District Commission Wednesday afternoon at the Pere Marquette Depot in Belding. — Daily News/Cory Smith

The three criteria consisted of proving the buildings either constituted a safety hazard to the public or to the structure’s occupants, created a financial hardship to the buildings’ owner or that retaining the buildings is not in the interest of the community.

“We’re here today to decide if those remaining buildings fit into one of those exceptions that would nevertheless allow demolition,” Perdue said. “Given the decrepit state of the buildings … simple logic should tell you that it is contrary to the community’s best interest to keep these buildings.”

Perdue cited the unsafe conditions of the buildings, including moisture damage to the brick layering, collapsed roofing, extensive cracking in the concrete, falling bricks and holes in the floors, making several areas within the structures in their current state impassible.

After Perdue’s presentation was complete, Belding city attorney Gary Rentrop led a nearly four-hour presentation, which included testimony from five expert witnesses, countering Electrolux’s points on the three listed criteria for demolition.

Rentrop stressed the focus should not be on immediately redeveloping the property, but whether it is cost effective to retain the building for future use.

“The applicant has not shown that demolition is necessary to substantially improve or correct any safety hazard,” he said. “The applicant has not shown that retaining the (properties) will cause undue financial hardship to the owner … nor has the applicant explored all feasible alternatives to eliminate any financial hardship.”

After listening to both sides state their case in a courtroom-like setting, with several rebuttals and objections from both attorneys, members of the HDC voted unanimously 5-0 to deny Electrolux the application for demolition.
Commission members Jared Seigel and Duane Shore were absent from the meeting due to conflicts of interest.

Commission member Brad Miller explained in detail why Electrolux’s three criteria for demolition were not accurate in the case of the buildings on the Gibson property.

“The current structure is not currently habited … making the direct hazard and safety of the structure’s occupancy null and void,” he said. “Electrolux has not exhausted the pursuit of all alternative uses for the site … and final demolition will not approve or eliminate any undue financial hardship (for Electrolux), because there is no undue financial hardship.”

After his comments, Miller then motioned that “because none of the conditions prevail, that a notice to proceed (with demolition) is denied.”

Miller stressed to both Electrolux and the city that he hopes the two can work together in the future to find some common ground in creating a resolution that works for both parties.

“It seems like compromise is the most logical way to come to a conclusion,” he said. “We seem to have met every one of the criteria. Rather than the outcome be a win-lose scenario, I think we could find a win-win.”
HDC Chairman Douglas Lamborne closed the meeting by noting that the city of Belding is extra sensitive to the issue of historical preservation.

“When (I) first moved here, the covered village mall was in place and any number of historical buildings (had been) demolished,” he said. “For us to consider and look at completely wiping out the northwest corner of what used to be the main corner in the city really kind of lies in the face of preservation. In today’s market there might not be a lot of interest (for those buildings) out there … but you have to be able to see beyond that.”

Electrolux can appeal to the state on the commission’s decision to deny their demolition permit. The case could then be moved to the State Historic Preservation Office.


Historic District Commission Chairman Douglas Lamborne listens to testimony Wednesday afternoon during a hearing between Electrolux and the City of Belding at the Pere Marquette Depot in Belding. — Daily News/Cory Smith

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