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August 28, 2014
GROSSE POINTE PARK — It was standing room only at Monday night's council meeting, as residents and civic leaders urged city officials to allow citizen input on future plans for Kercheval at the boundary with Detroit at Alter Road.

At issue is the closure of Kercheval and the placement of sheds to accommodate the West Park Farmer's Market. While some see a wall that separates Grosse Pointe Park from Detroit, others see progress on making the area a walkable shopping and entertainment area with a new market and other amenities.

Last week Park officials entered into an agreement with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan calling for the two cities to develop a master plan for the area with both cities sharing planning, traffic engineering and marketing resources.

Specifically, Detroit agreed to remove abandoned houses along Alter Road from Jefferson to Mack and to construct a roundabout or landscaped island on the Detroit side of the project.

But what wasn't clear to many at Monday night's meeting was whether Kercheval would reopen to through traffic, a question Mayor Palmer Heenan told them they would just have to "wait and see what we come up with."

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Heenan was forceful in his reaction to questions regarding the project.

"We are in negotiations with Detroit and we won't comment while we are negotiating," Heenan said. "Let us deal with Detroit. We are in talks about the redevelopment of Alter Road that are shockingly positive."

And to those who pressed for clearer answers, Heenan made his position clear.

"You elected us to represent you," he said. "You have taken our time, you have made your point. Enough is enough."

Heenan's comment was met with applause from several in attendance, and in response to praise from a Barrington resident, he responded, "We will please you. You ought to be grateful you live here."

Detroit city councilman Andre Spivey, who represents residents of District 4 in Detroit, the area bordering Grosse Pointe Park, addressed the council.

"I'm committed to doing what we can do to improve the area," he said. "While I can't speak for Mayor Duggan, I know he is committed to moving forward on this project at warp speed. If our mayor said he will do something, it will be done."

But several business owners questioned the Park's commitment to existing businesses.

"We know we have Detroit residents boycotting Park businesses," Betsy Breckels told the council. "It has put us in a vulnerable spot."

Breckels' concern for some of the actions by the major developer in that area of the Park, the Cotton family, brought a harsh rebuke by the mayor.

"They have invested $8 million in that area," Heenan said. "Don't you put the Cottons down. You're on soft ground when you do. I'm disappointed in you and your thinking."

But Heenan's sharpest comments were directed toward Hank Zuchowski, the owner of the building that houses his business, Shaw's Books. Zuchowski had been at odds with the Park over the placement of the market sheds, which are within feet of the front door of his business and, he maintains, blocks access to his customers because he has refused to sell his building to the Park.

"I have two questions," Zuchowski said. "Are you going to open Kercheval and are you going to unblock my store?"

Those questions led to a harsh exchange with Heenan.

"We are negotiating with Detroit, and we won't commit to anything while we are in negotiations," Heenan said, before saying about Zuchowski, "He wants us to spend $500,000 on his building and to buy him a building. The city can't afford him. Our plan may or may not include you."

"I don't want to move, I don't want to sell," Zuchowski responded. "It will cost you. I don't want to be blocked."

Heenan gaveled Zuchowski out of order.

Residents of the area, while speaking in favor of the changes along Kercheval, asked the council to address traffic issues in the area, specifically the rerouting of delivery trucks along side streets.

Councilman Dan Clark told the residents the first step in changes to Kercheval is approval by the city's planning commission and councilman Greg Theokis urged residents to put their concerns and suggestions in writing and send them to the planning commission.

Councilman Dan Grano suggested the city establish a citizen advisory council to advise the planning commission.

"We are beating a dead horse here until we see a plan," he said. "The council can't do anything until it sees what the planning commission has approved."

The next meeting of the planning commission is 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 9, in the city council chambers.

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