About a dozen residents gathered on the corner of Porter and Anne streets in Detroit’s Hubbard Richard neighborhood on Monday evening to air their opposition against a land transfer that Detroit City Council was expected to vote on in less than a day.

On Tuesday, the city council is scheduled to consider a transfer of approximately 4 acres of land next to the Ambassador Bridge in exchange for the bridge owners paying $5 million in improvements to Riverside Park. It is the same agreement that the council rejected in November 2021. At the time, the city council voted against finalizing the agreement with the Detroit International Bridge Co., as part of a 2015 land swap deal, due to immense pressure from residents to do so.

Democratic US Rep.  Rashida Tlaib speaks alongside residents urging Detroit City Council members to vote against a land deal with the Detroit International Bridge Company and require community protections in southwest Detroit, on Monday, Feb.  20, 2023.

Democratic US Rep. Rashida Tlaib speaks alongside residents urging Detroit City Council members to vote against a land deal with the Detroit International Bridge Company and require community protections in southwest Detroit, on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023.

This pressure from advocates and residents to reject the transfer remains just as heavy, if not heavier.

“All I see is them wanting to take away from our community, not investing in our community,” said US Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, speaking before a small crowd standing in front of a tall dark pink wall that separates the neighborhood from a border protection and customs area at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, “I am ashamed that our city would even want to give them (the Moroun family) any public spaces at all.

“This is not the only community impacted by the subsidiaries of the (DIBC). Yes, we are literally in the shadows in their backyard. But this is our backyard.”

In 2015, the city entered a land exchange agreement with DIBC that was predicated on a number of requirements from the bridge owners, including a donation of $3 million to improve Riverside Park, window installations at the new train station and approximately 5 acres of riverfront land given to the city to incorporate into Riverside Park. If the city agrees to finalize the deal, and transfers the 3.4 acres to DIBC, then the company promises to donate another $2 million for Riverside Park. A DIBC spokesperson said that city lawyers have said that if the city does not complete the transfer, then it will be in breach of the land exchange agreement.

“No one, not even those who have historically opposed us, disputes that DIBC has kept every promise it made in the LEA,” a DIBC spokesperson said in a statement Monday evening. “We have engaged in discussions regarding other issues that the Hubbard Richard neighborhood has raised. We intend to continue to engage with the community, but the issues we are discussing are unrelated and should not be tied to completing the LEA, which was signed over seven years ago.”

Despite potential legal ramifications for the city, residents are urging council members to vote against the land transfer of 3085 W. Jefferson Ave. until a Community Benefits plan has been established. City leaders and residents have been in negotiation talks with DIBC since city council shot down the transfer in 2021.

Residents want a promise that if DIBC pursues another bridge — the company has said it intends to build another bridge linking Detroit and Windsor — that it will enter a Community Benefits agreement with residents and that it won’t further displace residents and will not continue to encroach on the neighborhood and prey upon homeowners. Hubbard Richard community leaders estimate that if an agreement is finalized without protections, then 20% of the neighborhood will be decimated, as an expansion of the bridge company’s customs plaza would flatten at least two blocks of homes.

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“This land would be the last thing the bridge company would need from the city to build their second bridge when they’re ready to do so,” said Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero, whose district includes Hubbard Richard, at Monday night’s rally. “This land deal is the only leverage the council and the community has to bring the DIBC to the table to agree on protections for residents that include a voluntary Community Benefits process.”

This is not the first time residents of Hubbard Richard have had to stand up for themselves, and longtime residents are confident it won’t be the last. Susana Villarreal-Garza, 62, has been living in her Hubbard Richard home since she was born, points to each spot on a now-vacant lot owned by a company affiliated with the DIBC where a home used to stand and the names of the families who occupied them before the Moroun family came to town.

“Everything can’t be bought out,” she said, adding that she has received generous offers for her home and her family’s business, Tamaleria Nuevo Leon, that’s a block away from her house. “This is home, this is home.”

Contact Miriam Marini: [email protected]

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Southwest Detroit residents rally against Moroun land transfer

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