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Detroit City Council approves final piece of controversial land swap deal


Update 2/21/23 at 7:45 p.m.: The Detroit City Council voted to approve the final piece of a controversial 2015 land swap agreement on Tuesday.

It gives the Detroit International Bridge Company, which owns the Ambassador Bridge, a parcel of land on Jefferson Avenue near the bridge in exchange for another $2 million to upgrade Riverside Park. The company has already put $3 million toward improvements there as part of the larger agreement.

The council made the decision over the objections of some southwest Detroit residents. They say the bridge company has a history of being a bad actor in the neighborhood, and has plans for expanding the bridge’s footprint in a way they fear could decimate their neighborhood.

Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero represents that area. She told Bridge company chairman Matthew Moroun that the neighborhood needed protections in the form of a community benefits agreement.

This isn’t unfortunately something that we can take your word by,” Santiago-Romero said. “This is a process that I'm trying to follow to ensure protections for residents.”

Moroun pledged to continue working toward a benefits agreement and said progress has been made. “But I don't want to engage in talks of another agreement, while this one is still outstanding and being held hostage,” Moroun said.

The Council ultimately approved the deal by a 6-3 vote, with some Council members expressing concerns over the city meeting its existing legal obligations. Council President Mary Sheffield urged Moroun to continue negotiating community benefits in good faith, and requested regular updates on the process.

Original story: The Detroit City Council is set to vote this week on the final piece of a controversial land swap.

The deal would give the Detroit International Bridge Company, which owns the Ambassador Bridge, a piece of vacant land on Jefferson Avenue near the bridge. In return, the company would give the city $2 million to upgrade Riverside Park.

But some southwest Detroit residents worry about what the company might plan to do with that land and other parcels it’s acquired. They worry it will bring a bridge expansion, including a possible second span, more truck traffic, and other changes that will damage their neighborhood. They’re pushing for a community benefits agreement with the company before the deal is finalized.

Jessica Trevino lives in the nearby Hubbard-Richard neighborhood. She said community members were pushing for the bridge company to put some of the vacant properties it owns in a community land trust, among other measures, to ensure it doesn’t take over the neighborhood for a bridge expansion and trucking operations. While some neighborhood residents have come out urging the City Council to support the deal and finish the Riverside Park upgrades, Trevino said this is about something much bigger than the park.

For us, it's about if this land exchange happens without any community benefits to us, we're screwed,” she said.

“We love the park, too. We just don't want to get this great park only to have our neighborhood decimated. You know, who's going to go to the park if you don't have a neighborhood?”

Detroit City Council member Gabriela Santiago-Romero agreed. She represents southwest Detroit.

“Before we complete this deal to finalize our world-class park, we need to ensure our Hubbard-Richard residents have world-class protections,” Santiago-Romero said.

So far, the Bridge Company has upheld its end of the deal, giving the city $3 million for Riverside Park upgrades. Brad Dick, Detroit’s director of general services, said the additional $2 million is needed, especially to pave a stretch of road connecting the park to the surrounding community that’s currently a dirt road.

“What it rains, it's dusty, and when cars drive down, dust flies all over the park. It flies over the children's playscapes,” Dick said. “It’s not the kind of park the people of southwest of Detroit deserve.”

Other council members and members of Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration also pointed out that the city is obligated to follow through on the original deal.

But Santiago-Romero said there’s still time to do that. “I am not saying that we're not going to finish this deal,” she said. “I am asking for protections for residents because we need to ensure their health and safety.”

The deal passed out of a City Council committee last week, with a recommendation to deny it for now. The final vote is scheduled for Tuesday.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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