Brushed aside

Feb 6, 2002 at 12:00 am

Outrage and controversy played their parts in the theater of urban renewal last week as a handful of Brush Park residents — some elderly, ailing and wearing oxygen masks — marched down Woodward Avenue to the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. On City Council’s stage, confusion reigned.

The residents, led by Brush Park Citizens District Council Chairwoman Gwendolyn Mingo, showed up to protest amendments to the Brush Park development plan. The changes would allow Crosswinds Community developers to build a high-density apartment building and parking structure in the historic but blighted neighborhood adjacent to Comerica Park. The group members don’t like Crosswinds’ existing $300,000 condominiums, and they don’t appreciate the way the city has treated them during the redevelopment process.

Before the protesters could speak, city Law Department officials recommended City Council not hear from them because of a lawsuit filed by the CDC against the city Planning Department last year. The suit seeks compensation for displaced residents. But the council chair for the day, new member Sharon McPhail, ignored the advice. “The Law Department said we couldn’t listen to the people,” said McPhail, a lawyer herself. “But the people’s time is our time.” Her ruling ruffled the feathers of council members Kay Everett and Sheila Cockrel, who left the room to avoid hearing from the group.

Later, McPhail said she wants an investigation into Brush Park residents’ claims that hundreds of low-income African-Americans were illegally pushed from the neighborhood during the redevelopment process without proper compensation. Mingo and others also say there have been suspicious fires at homes in key areas that have resulted in at least one death. “If half of what they say is true, we have a problem,” McPhail said, noting she hopes there are enough votes on council for a probe.

Meanwhile, City Planning Commission Director Marsha Bruhn said the current Brush Park plans are a marked improvement on previous plans. In 1996, for example, the city’s Brush Park plan called for removing 514 residents from the neighborhood, while the current plan calls for removing about 30, she said. (Neighborhood advocates scoff at the figure, saying many of the original 514 have already left.) Also, original plans called for the city to acquire more homes, but now all owner-occupied and some other structures have been removed from the acquisition list, Bruhn said. People who must leave rental units are eligible for up to about $4,000 for relocation, while homeowners get their home’s market value — plus the city must find a comparable dwelling, Bruhn said. As far as Brush Park longtime residents are concerned, it’s too little, too late.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette, Metro Times news editor. Call 313-202-8004 or e-mail [email protected]