SOUTHFIELD/LATHRUP VILLAGE — It was a year of risk taking and decision making around the community, in many ways.
The year started and ended with community activism and planning decisions around the former St. Bede property, and the months in between were filled with sculpting Southfield’s culture via city-wide events and crafting a “pedestrian-friendly” environment.
On the crime front, Southfield gained national attention for its progress in cracking down on human trafficking, working with many other police agencies to free victims, apprehend suspects and rid the city of crimes like prostitution and sexual slavery.
Here’s an overview of each of the bigger community stories and how they unfolded over the past 12 months:
Walmart sets sights on Southfield
Having a big box store fight to move into your community can be like striking gold for city planners and development teams. Having a decaying and blighted church finally sell after years on the market and costing thousands of dollars for still-existing parishes also sounds like a reason to celebrate. But when the two mixed together in Southfield, it seemed to make the city’s master plan a battlefield.
Rumors started in 2012 that Walmart wanted to purchase the site at 12 Mile and Southfield roads for an undisclosed amount. By January 2013, study sessions, meetings and public hearings had sometimes hundreds of attendees from Southfield and Lathrup Village voicing their opinions about the controversial development decision to turn an area next to a neighborhood into a high-traffic commercial center.
While voting on the Walmart proposal Jan. 29, several council members expressed interest in the idea of rezoning the land to a commercial or mixed use — though a less intense commercial use — and Council President Ken Siver suggested they wait to make the decision. Many community members were opponents of the 130,124-square-foot supercenter, such as resident Barbara Seiden, who told council at the Jan. 29 meeting that such a drastic rezoning risked pushing out small businesses and would add pollution and traffic congestion.
Michael Moran, director of properties for the Archdiocese of Detroit, said that throughout the five years of St. Bede being on the market, they had specifically written purchase agreements for mixed- and commercial-use developments that fit a B3 rezoning. That was also suggested as one of the reasons another church that tried to purchase the site was reportedly not chosen as the preferred buyer.
Lathrup Village city officials took a stance against B3 rezoning, as well, as many of its residents wanted to keep their neighborhoods quieter and safer than a supercenter might allow for.
Mayor Brenda Lawrence, Councilman Sidney Lantz and City Planner Terry Croad were among those in favor of the archdiocese being able to complete the sale to Walmart, citing new jobs and the city’s master plan aiming for more development specifically in that area.
Council voted in January to not rezone the property, meaning Walmart could not establish a supercenter there; Lantz cast the only vote in favor of the rezoning.
The archdiocese went back to the drawing board, and by the fall of 2013, it was announced that West Bloomfield-based A F Jonna Development intended to purchased the vacant St. Bede Church with plans for a mixed-use, or B2 development. Council approved the plans in December.
Creating a community of culture
With a balanced budget for 2013-14, the Southfield City Council worked hand-in-hand with Southfield Parks and Recreation to fill the city’s calendar with fun, fresh and exciting entertainment for residents and the members of the business community who make up a large portion of the daytime population.
Janet Husaynu of Parks and Recreation noted that many new events, like the Brew at the Burgh in October, aimed to appeal to an adult crowd and complement the many family-friendly and kid-centric events the city hosts.
Ask Tanya Markos-Vanno, executive director of the Southfield Chamber of Commerce, and she’ll tell you that events like the inaugural Southfield Restaurant Week aim to not only showcase the best of the city’s culinary talent and must-have gastronomy, but also to keep the “after 5 p.m.” population sticking around to see what Southfield has to offer when the workday is over.
Bringing a new type of event to the city, Lathrup Village organized its own Summer Stroll, similar to that of Ann Arbor. The new event was a festival of artists and musicians who were showcased in the northeast section of town in August. Selected performances were lined up on porches and front yards, putting on a free summer show that evening.
Southfield also dabbled in the art of street eating, which has been a big success for nearby communities like Ferndale and Detroit. Drawing folks into the ever-growing Southfield City Centre area — the area between I-696, the Lodge and Evergreen Road — the first Food Truck Rally was held in September, with about half a dozen of metro Detroit’s most popular mobile restaurants and live entertainment.
Grounding the lineup of 2013 events were some of the annual happenings that proved to be tried and true entertainment for locals, such as the Eat to the Beat lunchtime concert series, SumMore Fest and Boo at the Burgh in Southfield, as well as the free summer concert series and Summer in the Village in Lathrup.
There were a few trip-ups throughout the year, notably when Southfield announced that the very-popular Jazz Festival would return in August with a new host and slightly new identity — but with the same big flare the region loved — only for it to fall through because WJZZ Digital MotorCity Jazz Radio was unable to secure enough sponsorships. The event is reportedly now slated for 2014.
What would have been Lathrup Village’s 18th annual Autumn Nights — which usually take place at the end of September during the Fall Festival — didn’t make it to the list this year, but the community had an even greater reason to celebrate: the 60th year of the city being incorporated. A Hawaiian themed community party, and “homecoming” of sorts for many expats, was held in August.
Lathrup Village’s Farmers Market grew even stronger, with more ways to reach out to the low-income of the region and standing out in Oakland County for offering Electronic Benefit Transfer, Project Senior Fresh and WIC coupons, as well as hosting a Family Market Day in July.
Halting human trafficking
It was a big year for the Southfield Police Department in many ways, rolling out new initiatives, connecting with citizens and tackling rising crime trends.
In February, police rescued a bloodied 18-year-old woman being forced to work as a metro Detroit stripper by a man and woman from Memphis, Tenn.
One suspect allegedly assaulted the Texas-native teen at Southfield’s Extended Stay Hotel, prompting the police to be called in. A second suspect also faces a human trafficking charge and has been identified as his accomplice, police said.
In a press release, Attorney General Bill Schuette praised the Southfield Police Department for its work.
In August, a three-day prostitution sweep took place across the nation, and the Detroit area ranked second of 76 cities to take part in the recovery of juveniles and arrests of suspects involved in prostitution; the most in the area being apprehended in Southfield, according to officials.
Southfield and Madison Heights were the two places where the most arrests were made, according to the FBI Detroit Field Office. Twenty arrests were made in Southfield, and six were made in Madison Heights. Three juveniles were recovered in Southfield and 10 across the state. Eighteen pimps were netted, and there were 59 arrests in the state.
Detective Sgt. Ed Price of the Michigan State Police noted that because Southfield is so accessible, it’s strategic grounds for those who operate in human trafficking.
A 45-year-old man who was said to be a “known pimp” by Michigan State Police shot and killed himself inside the 5000 Town Center condo he was renting while a police task force was executing a search warrant in May.
Mike Luke White’s suicide, which was said to be a single gunshot as soon as police busted in, made national news. Police were tipped off about the man, who had previously served a 37-month sentence for human trafficking, after a female victim filed a report at the Southfield Police Department.
Authorities said he had more than a dozen women operating in his prostitution ring, held against their will, under his company, called “Sizzling Hot Inc.”