[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Eminent Domain in Detroit

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Mon Mar 13 13:08:40 EST 2006

Detroit houses may be razed for a new bridge

By Joel Kurth
The Detroit News
Published March 5, 2006

DETROIT -- Michigan is forming plans to use eminent domain to seize as many as 300 houses to build a bridge to Canada through a neighborhood once labeled one of America's worst white slums.

Even though a controversial $25 million study of a bridge is nearly two years from completion, state transportation agents for weeks have discussed buying or condemning houses with residents of Delray, a onetime Eastern European enclave that's become one of Detroit's poorest, most polluted and forgotten corners.

The plans, outlined in state draft reports, have divided residents of the neighborhood anchored by Historic Ft. Wayne and smokestacks that has a long, proud history, but 30-year string of bad luck.

Some residents view state buyouts as the only way out of an area where homes sell for as little as $8,000. Others aren't ready to declare dead a community so rich in memories.

"What's always hurt Delray is that too many people are always too ready to write it off," said Thomas Cervenak, director of the Delray Neighborhood House, a recreation center amid a $1 million renovation. Next to an Interstate Highway 75 overpass, the center overlooks a burned-out drug house, the city's wastewater treatment plant and a home with a dozen refrigerators in the front yard.

Less than a mile away, at Kovacs Bar, owner Bob Evans is ready to leave. His tavern--once featured in the movie "Hoffa"--hosted one patron at noon on a recent Tuesday. Sitting alone at a mahogany bar, Evans said all he needs is a fair offer--maybe $170,000.

He's tired. Tired of the talk that Delray somehow can come back. Tired of streets that have as many weedy lots or shells of houses as occupied ones. Tired of the cars dumped inside a gutted and graffiti scrawled medical center across the street.

There is no neighborhood, Evans said. "People keep talking about people building houses here. Who's going to want to live next to a wastewater treatment plant?"

Eminent domain--taking of private property for the public good--is always controversial. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down efforts to take land for private property, but upheld Michigan laws that allow it to be used for public projects. While the Ambassador Bridge is privately held, the state has said it prefers public ownership for a new bridge.

The state zeroed in on Delray--named in the 1990s as one of the worst ghettos by U.S. News and World Report--when planners amid a study of a third crossing ruled out richer areas, such as Wyandotte or Belle Isle near Grosse Pointe.

A bi-national commission of state, federal and provincial transportation officials has concluded that, without another link, border congestion will grow so bad by 2020 that Michigan and Ontario will lose nearly $29 billion annually and 49,000 jobs.

The governments are studying the 2-mile-long neighborhood of Delray, but don't know how many houses would need to be demolished because the exact footprint for a bridge won't be finalized until late 2007, said Bill Shreck, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

State buyouts wouldn't begin until 2008, he said. Bridge construction would last through 2013.

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