Abridging the law

Residents of southwest Detroit have long been accustomed to the Detroit International Bridge Company acting with impunity. When Manny Maroun's outfit started buying and developing land adjacent to its Ambassador Bridge operations in January 2001, some residents in the Bagley and Mexicantown neighborhoods complained that the company forced them out of the neighborhood. But they shouldn't feel singled out. The company, which owns and operates the bridge, has treated city government in the same high-handed way.

Five years ago, the company erected a pink, concrete perimeter around the newly acquired area and started putting in tollbooths and fuel pumps —without requesting a zoning change for the formerly residential area. It also failed to obtain the necessary construction permits.

That much is old news. Here's the new scoop: The company doesn't actually own all the land it developed behind that wall.


According to Detroit's property tax rolls, three parcels of land developed by the company — all on the 1400 block of 20th Street — are still owned by the city. The government never gave the company permission to buy, rent or develop those parcels, says state Rep. Steve Tobocman (D-Detroit), who has been following the situation.

"The borders are critical to our economy," says Tobocman. "But no private business should flaunt the rules."

Sylvia Crawford, spokeswoman for the city's Planning and Development Department, says she wasn't aware of the matter until News Hits called. She immediately went out to study the history.

"An offer to purchase was made" by the company May 2004, she reported back. The land "was in the process of being sold to the bridge company, but there was a need for them to request a rezoning." However, since the company started construction without making such a request, the sale was never finalized.

The city has been clashing with the company in court over alleged zoning ordinance infractions related to the site since January 2001, with arguments set to continue next month in the Michigan Court of Appeals. All work on the properties was supposed to halt during the legal proceedings.

But as Margaret Garry, real estate and development manager at the Mexicantown Community Development Corporation, points out, the company just kept building.

"They've already built there and they still don't own the property," she says. "The city doesn't even charge them rent."

So what's the city doing about it? Crawford says the Planning Department sent an inspector to the site in question on March 2. The inspector saw that the company indeed built on city-owned land without a permit. Crawford's department then requested that the city's Buildings & Safety Engineering Department issue the bridge company a citation. This would join the 37 other tickets the city has given the company regarding the rezoning fracas since 2001.

Wow. Another ticket! That's sure to have 'ol Manny shaking in his Gucci loafers.

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