City residents directly affected by the pending Graimark housing development on Detroit’s east side continue to complain that their views are being ignored by both the project’s developers and city officials.
"So much of the stuff is already outlined and brought to us," says Ken Walker, a member of the Graimark Citizens District Council. "They just want us to rubber-stamp plans they’ve already made up."
Michigan public law mandates that CDCs serve as consultants on redevelopment projects in areas they represent. But residents say that’s not happening with Graimark. For example, they say they were never even notified about a Jan. 14 public hearing before City Council.
Residents are also upset that crucial aspects of the development plan keep being altered without their input.
"Things are changing as it’s going along," complained resident Karen Dumas during a recent CDC meeting. "We’ve been told one thing and something else happens. ... Nothing has been provided by the developers such as a development plan or specifics in writing."
When originally presented to the City Council a year ago, Graimark’s plan was to take a blighted section of the city on the lower east side, level the existing houses and build homes valued at between $135,000 to $167,000. The redeveloped area, with its more expensive homes, would bring badly needed tax dollars to the city. It is now estimated that the homes will be selling for about $200,000.
But at the Jan. 14 hearing, Graimark President Charles Allen asked the City Council to have the area designated a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone. If the development is granted that status, the city would forgo the anticipated tax revenues for 12 years.
According to Timothy Cook, president of the Graimark CDC, the whole development plan is a bust if the tax abatement isn’t granted. Cook said that Allen "should have gotten the designation before people were put out of their homes and the area condemned."
Graimark executives did not return calls from the Metro Times seeking comment.
At least one member of the CDC, however, voiced support for the proposed change. "It could be beneficial," said resident Farrand Page. "Property owners don’t have to pay federal, state or city taxes as long as you’re in the zone. These are things to think about."
Who will be allowed to remain in the area is a question that remains unanswered. Residents along Marquette Street, which has a Detroit River canal running behind homes, thought they had won a reprieve from forced eviction last year when the CDC succeeded in having that area exempted. Also, other homeowners were given the option of moving their houses — at their expense — to vacant lots along Marquette Street.
But there were stipulations. Residents would have to bring homes up to city code and cosmetically update exteriors to complement the new Graimark homes.
Residents complain that the plan was a smokescreen, because the homes are so old it is not economically feasible to bring them up to current standards. Others are suspicious that no matter what they do, their homes will be classified as substandard.
"You’re talking about bringing buildings up to code just to tear them down," said one resident.
Councilwoman Brenda Scott, one of four council members who voted against the original Graimark plan, remains skeptical. "I knew it was tainted from the beginning," she said. "We don’t know what’s happening. ... Council will have to reevaluate the process."
The council has not yet decided whether the area will be designated a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone. Another public hearing on the matter is scheduled before the council on Feb. 17.