Residents of Detroit’s Hubbard Richard neighborhood are asking Detroit City Council not to approve a land transfer that would give the Moroun-owned Detroit International Bridge Company 3.8 acres at 3085 W. Jefferson.
They fear that approving the deal could take away their leverage to block an expansion of the Ambassador Bridge’s customs plaza and prevent the closure of part of St. Anne Street, developments that could bring more truck traffic, noise, and air pollution into a predominantly residential area.
“The impacts of moving 10,000 trucks per day closer into a vibrant, walkable neighborhood would have serious health impacts on local residents,” said Sam Butler, president of the Hubbard Richard Resident Association. “I don’t think it’s hyperbole to call the DIBC an existential threat to the neighborhood.”
Butler said the blight in Windsor’s Sandwich Towne neighborhood is a cautionary tale. The bridge company bought houses in this neighborhood and allowed them to fall into disrepair as they tried to acquire the land needed on the Canadian side for a second span of the privately-owned bridge.
If passed, the land transfer would be the last piece of a 2015 deal in which the Morouns gave the city 5 acres and $3 million for Riverside Park in exchange for the land needed for the second span.
Once the transfer is approved, the bridge company will give the city another $2 million for Riverside Park.
On Thursday, Feb. 16, the Council’s Planning and Economic Committee voted to send the proposed transfer to the council, which could decide on the measure as soon as Tuesday, Feb. 21.
But Hubbard Richard residents have failed to reach an agreement with DIBC for community benefits, including having the company relinquish properties on St. Anne and place them in a community land trust, effectively stopping an eastward expansion of the customs plaza. The company has also not committed to keeping St. Anne’s Street open south of West Lafayette.
Detroit Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero, whose district includes Southwest Detroit and Hubbard Richard, echoed Butler’s concerns about blocking the deal to maintain the community’s negotiating position. She added that DIBC also needed to agree to engage in a broader community benefits agreement with neighborhoods surrounding the bridge if a second span is ever built.
“The biggest point right now is that this is the only leverage the community has for potential community benefits in the future,” she said. “It’s going to be incredibly important that Council supports the community.”
Santiago-Romero said it would be up to the federal government to approve a new bridge, at least on the American side. She said Detroit wouldn’t get another opportunity to influence how that process plays out.
“This is our one opportunity to be at that table if they decide to build a second bridge,” she said.
However, Santiago-Romero wasn’t concerned about the recent request for a permit from the Moroun-owned company, Hercules Concrete. The company had sought the permit to continue operating a potentially hazardous facility next to Detroit’s Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park and the Detroit RiverWalk.
Esther Jentzen, a spokesperson for the Moroun-owned Central Transport, previously told Planet Detroit that approving the land transfer was the precondition for moving Hercules and other industrial uses “west of the Ambassador Bridge and Riverside Park” as well as granting the city an easement to complete the final leg of the Detroit RiverWalk between Centennial Park and Riverside Park.
Santiago-Romero said the permit request was a “false threat,” adding that based on her talks with the Moroun companies, she doesn’t believe they want a permanent facility at the current Hercules site.
Detroit Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett said in a statement the city has discussed moving Hercules with the Moroun-owned Crown Enterprises but that these discussions have been “preliminary” and haven’t involved the “land exchange agreement.”
Gregg Ward, president of the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry and a frequent critic of the Morouns, says that if it’s moved, the concrete operation might end up only a short distance away at the Port of Detroit site off Scotten Street. The Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority has agreed on a deal to sell the port to the Morouns, but the City Council still needs to approve the move. Putting Hercules here would mean that pollution from the operation could still affect Riverside Park and Southwest Detroit.
Ward questioned why the city would allow the Morouns to potentially expand the customs plaza or develop more industry in an area that’s seeing significant investment like Ford Motor Company’s $1 billion dollar project at Detroit Central Station.
“Why would you be…destroying this very vibrant neighborhood that is in walking distance to the 5000 jobs at Central Station and the Book Depository and all that stuff going on in Corktown,” he asked. “This should be the prime neighborhood the city is supporting.”
It’s unclear how much support the land transfer has at Council, and the planning committee forwarded the measure with a “recommendation to deny.” Santiago-Romero says several members are ready to vote down the land swap, potentially denying the transfer for the second time in the last two years.
But if the council does approve the deal, Butler says it would send the wrong message to the bridge company and other businesses.
“I think it incentivizes further speculation on their part and the displacement of existing residents,” he said.
If residents can’t reach an agreement with the bridge company over the next few days, Butler says they’ll need to make their presence known at the council meeting on Tuesday.
“I think we’ll just be forced to mobilize and get as many people as possible to the meeting on the 21st,” he said. “Just to say to the council, ‘don’t approve this deal without a community agreement in place.'”