July 31, 2014GROSSE POINTE PARK — It was standing room only Monday night as supporters and opponents of the new design for Kercheval involving market sheds and a traffic roundabout told city officials exactly what they thought of the project.
About 75 people crowded into the council chambers, with many questioning the Park's motive in closing off Kercheval just steps away from its border with Detroit.
"Building walls does not help solve problems with neighbors," a Park resident told the council. "It is important for us to be inclusive, not exclusive."
At issue is the construction at Wayburn and Kercheval of a traffic circle that closes Kercheval from traffic access from Detroit, while routing traffic through an alley in order to leave or enter Grosse Pointe Park. While the design of the street was questioned, the larger issue for many was the placement by the city of large sheds at the roundabout that will be used for the city's West Park Farmer's Market. The sheds, which resemble small barns, appear to many to form a barrier separating the Park from Detroit.
"This closure clearly sends the message that Detroiters are not welcome," a Detroit resident told the council. "It's offensive to Detroiters like me. I will not spend my money in Grosse Pointe anymore and I will urge others to stop shopping in Grosse Pointe."
Another speaker agreed.
"I shop your block, but no more," she said. "I also used to be a vendor at your market, and I will not do that anymore. It's challenging for me to try to explain to my grandchildren who live in Grosse Pointe why there is a barn is in the middle of a street."
Another speaker, who told the council she just moved from southwest Detroit to a house in the Park was surprised to learn that Kercheval is the seventh street in the Park to be blocked at the Detroit border.
"I feel like I've made a huge mistake," she said.
A recurring question posed to council was who was involved in approving the plans for the redesign of Kercheval and questioning if residents were involved in the planning. A major issue was what some saw as a lack of transparency.
"We met with representatives of the city just a few months ago and we were told that that this (closing of Kercheval) was not going to happen," one resident told the council. "You keep telling us that the plans for this project were well known, but if that was the case, why did a council member tell us that there were no plans?"
City manager Dale Krajniak said plans for the project were approved by the city's planning commission, but when pressed by a resident, Krajniak admitted that minutes from the planning commission were not posted online and the commission only meets twice a year.
"I appreciate concerns over the perception the sheds create," Krajniak said. "But they are only temporary. We hope to have something in place by this time next year. We want to encourage access from Alter."
Krajniak said the plan is to build a permanent grocery store at that location. He said the city had been in discussion with Farms Market to build on the site, but those plans did not materialize. From now until November, the West Park Farmers Market will be open from Wednesday to Saturday in the new sheds.
"That's fine," one resident noted. "For 7 percent of the year, they will be a farmers market, but for 93 percent of the year they will be a barrier."
Krajniak drew comparisons between the project and development of a shopping area in Detroit which also involved closing off several streets. That comparison brought a sharp rebuke from Maggie DeSantis, CEO of the Warren/Conner Development Coalition.
"To suggest these projects are the same is rude and fallacious," she told Krajniak. "Don't try to make us look bad so you don't look bad."
When questioned as to whether the Park worked with the City of Detroit on the project, city attorney Dennis Levasseur said Detroit was contacted.
"We reached out a number of times to Detroit, but received no response," he said. "We tried to be a good neighbor. If anyone thinks we don't care what Detroit thinks, you're wrong."
Councilman Dan Grano said that many who questioned the Park's relationship with Detroit were not aware of the litigious history between the two cities, specifically citing the case of the Park wanting to tear down the Deck Bar at Jefferson and Alter to make way for a bus turnaround. The deal was almost complete when Detroit abruptly named the building a historic site and blocked the sale.
Several individuals who said they were involved with urban planning issues questioned the design of the project and whether there was sufficient resident involvement in the plans. They also questioned the role of the council and asked for council members, as elected officials, to comment on the project.
"The community has to be able to talk to you in order to improve, and you have to find out what the people want," one resident told the council. "Let us have our input."
"You are poorly representing me by putting a shed in the middle of the street," said another.
"This dialogue was long overdue," said councilwoman Laurie Arora. "I would be happy to meet with any of you to keep the dialogue going."
Councilman Bob Denner said that he was bothered by the racism charges leveled at the city.
"It's about blight and making sure that blight doesn't come into our area," he said "We can't change the problems around us, but we can maintain the quality of what we have. It's about improving Grosse Pointe Park."
Several residents did speak in support of the council and the plans for Kercheval.
"We have the utmost confidence in the decisions our city makes," one resident told the council.