There’s a new development coming to Corktown you probably haven’t heard about — no, not THAT one. As everyone holds their breaths waiting to hear Ford’s plans, a townhouse development may seem like small potatoes. But it’s giving us some insight into the future tensions Ford could face in a neighborhood where the smallest changes are scrutinized — and how the automaker might win over Corktown.
DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
In a moment when all eyes are on Ford’s potential move to Corktown, which would likely affect dozens of properties and mean major changes for the neighborhood, a few residents have their sights set on smaller shifts. In a cramped, overheated room on the fourth floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center Wednesday, they quizzed two developers about the minutiae of garage size, alley maintenance and building height. Michael Ferlito (the Ferlito Group) and Artie Mangla(Premium Development Group) are planning to build 18 townhouses on a vacant lot off 11th Street, behind the Firestone on Michigan Avenue. The one- and two-bedroom units will range from 1,200 to 1,400 square feet and are planned to sell for $325,000 to $375,000.
Neighbors’ biggest concerns were density and street parking — and getting to be involved in the planning process.
“I’m not anti-development … but Corktown is being looked at because it’s a sustainable neighborhood that people who have lived there and stayed there for decades have created,” said Patricia Muldoon, a 32-year resident. “This is our home. We raised our kids here, we’ve dealt with poor schools, poor shopping … but we love where we are. That’s my concern here today, is having a voice.”
She and others expressed frustration that the development’s plans were still vague, which Ferlito laid at Ford’s feet. They’re waiting to see if the automaker’s move comes to fruition before making anything final.
LITTLE BOXES ON THE LITTLE LOT
One neighbor opposed to the development had a more fiery objection to fitting two rows of nine three-story townhouses on the lot: “It sounds like people being housed like matchsticks,” she wrote in an email to the city.
Ferlito, for his part, seemed a little bewildered by the pushback after building the Selden condo complex on the south edge of Midtown without a hitch. The 11th Street lot is zoned so he could build a five-story office building, he told Detour, which would be a lot more matchsticks (and their matchbox cars driving on the residential streets). “So them fighting this battle just because of a couple units is too much density … we’re just trying to build stuff that fits in the neighborhood,” he said.
LEARN YOUR HISTORY
But that’s Corktown: lots of long-term residents with fiercely held stakes in their community. And a historic district, which brings out all kinds of sensitivities about “incorporating historic elements” and “neighborhood character.”
Debra Walker, a 12-year Corktown resident and co-chair of the community outreach committee for the Corktown Business Association, recalled trying to paint her house after she moved in and being told she had to choose from a slate of historic colors — tan, tan or tan.
“That’s the kind of welcome you get when you’re in a historic district,” she joked, in a call Wednesday night. “But at the same time that’s what makes it so lovely.”
Walker said Corktown residents have been receptive to new buildings in the past, as long as developers make an effort to reach out to the community. She pointed to Elton Park — about 150 units in a suite of buildings under construction at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull — as an example of how the process should work. They talked to neighbors early, made changes based on their input and kept them informed. And people were satisfied, Walker said.
BEYOND THE TRAIN STATION
She hopes that’s the model Ford would follow if and when they start scooping up property, rehabbing buildings, demoing others and paving parking lots.
“I’d ask that they become a part of the community, and not just be a place where employees drive in off the highway, go to work and go home,” she said. And that’s more than a theoretical concern or an empty threat: when Quicken employees kept speeding through the neighborhood to get to an employee parking lot, Walker got stop signs put up. When that didn’t solve the problem, she called in the traffic cop cavalry. They wrote 40 tickets in one day.
“People need to remember Corktown is a neighborhood, not just a strip of Michigan Avenue with restaurants and bars,” she said.
FULL STEAM AHEAD
Ultimately, objections to new builds are pretty common (too modern, too suburban; too low-income, too expensive) and it’s no given that residents could squash development plans they don’t like, whether Ferlito’s or Ford’s. For outsiders, a little less street parking might seem like a small price to pay for the economic investment and hundreds of new workers the automaker would bring to the city. Or as Mangla put it: “They can’t keep Corktown as Detroit’s oldest neighborhood without change. They can’t preserve it in a bubble.”
But the road to groundbreaking will be a lot smoother if developers start thinking of themselves as neighbors. —