City officials, residents debate new locations for public safety, DPW

By: K. Michelle Moran, | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 10, 2017

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Now that Grosse Pointe City voters have approved a 23-year bond proposal not to exceed $12.96 million for new public safety and public works facilities, as well as a safer municipal court, leaders are proceeding with plans to get those new projects underway.

But perhaps given that the millage — approved Aug. 8 — passed by less than 100 votes, those plans aren’t without at least some concerns.

During a Sept. 18 City Council meeting, the council voted unanimously in favor of a purchase agreement with the Donaldson family to buy their Alger Deli and Liquor Store at 17320 Mack Ave., as well as a vacant parcel next to the store and the home behind the store, for a new Public Safety Department building, at a cost of $1.65 million for all three parcels.

“Earlier this year, the City Council entered into a purchase agreement” for the properties, City Manager Pete Dame said. However, he said the agreement was slated to expire Oct. 1, so the council needed to formally finalize it.

“We did conduct due diligence,” Dame continued, noting that there were no environmental concerns with the land, and it could accommodate public safety facility needs.

But Annaliese Bajer, a Village property owner who has disagreed with City leaders on a number of past issues, expressed worries about relocating public safety to Mack, some of which have been echoed by City residents.

“I’m concerned about the safety of the police officers and their scout cars,” she said, noting that gunshots at a bar in Detroit, across Mack from the proposed location, have migrated to the City side and struck the Alger store. “You might actually be putting their lives at risk.”

Bajer questioned the timing of the bond issue as well.

“Some people say the vote was taken on purpose (in August), when people were on vacation, that it was pushed through,” Bajer said.

City Councilwoman Sheila Tomkowiak said that wasn’t the reason the council opted for the August ballot.

“The folks at Algers had a buyer for their property … and they had a purchase agreement” when they learned that the City was looking for a public safety property and they approached City officials, she said. Tomkowiak said the Alger site was less expensive and more centrally located than the Saros building property that City officials had been considering at the corner of Mack Avenue and Cadieux Road, on the Grosse Pointe Park border, and so the store site was considered preferable. However, she said the storeowners “couldn’t wait until November for a vote.”

“We needed to move quickly because there is not available land in the City,” Tomkowiak said, pointing out that officials “needed to find a place within the City” for public safety.

Mayor Dale Scrace said the building needs for public safety, the court and public works are issues that underwent extensive exploration and study by city leaders and staffers, and they were “as up front as we could be” throughout.

“The process that we went through was very deliberative,” Scrace said. “It wasn’t a short process. … We tried as much as we could to get as much feedback as possible from people. We’ve had a need for these buildings for a long time, and we’ve never had a solution.”

City Councilman Christopher Boettcher seemed to echo the need for the new public safety building.

“We have to do something. … The current facility will not hold a new pumper (fire) truck,” Boettcher said.

He rejected Bajer’s suggestion that the City could combine its public safety department with the other Pointes and reduce their facility needs that way.

“We’ve always said we would remain our own community” with its own services, Boettcher said.

The Alger site “gives us the opportunity to build something that we want that will serve us for the next 100 years,” he continued. “I firmly believe acquisition of this property is the first step to build a state-of-the-art public safety facility that will carry us through the next 100 years.”

But with regard to a new DPW facility at 4849 Canyon Road in Detroit, Boettcher disagreed with some of his council colleagues. Earlier this year, Dame said the City also entered into a purchase agreement with St. John Hospital and Medical Center to buy their warehouse, located on the east side of Detroit, just across Mack Avenue, behind Village Hardware. That agreement allowed for a period of due diligence during which the City could not only decide whether or not to go forward with the purchase, but also secure financing, conduct environmental studies and obtain site plan approval from Detroit, Dame explained.

After meeting with Detroit officials in early September, Dame said the City learned that this project would need a conditional use hearing and approval, so the City asked St. John officials for a 60-day extension of the purchase agreement, to which he said they agreed.

Boettcher asked if, as part of the 60-day extension, city administrators could do “a more thorough analysis of utilizing our existing facilities here” for DPW.

“This is our community,” he said. “We don’t put things in other communities to serve our needs.”

Boettcher was also concerned about the loss of control over some aspects of the DPW because it would be in another city.

Scrace and other City officials say they thoroughly considered options with regard to keeping public works on City Hall property. A May memo concludes that the public safety building, where court is held now and where court renovations are planned, would have to be torn down to make room for the DPW, and even then, the DPW would still run from property line to property line, as it does now.

City Councilman John Stempfle said he spoke with the three most recent DPW supervisors, all of whom told him the department had been looking for a new facility for at least the last 10 to 15 years.

“We were very fortunate this (property) was available,” Stempfle said. “It’s going to require some work, but it’s all manageable.”

He said the existing DPW “basically needs to be torn down.”

But some people, including City resident Barry Dickson, believe that the current DPW site could be reworked. Dickson, a contractor who said he’s worked on other municipal facilities, said that instead of using what he called the old “large arena type of building,” the City could consider a newer style of structure that features drive-in bays and that he said is more energy efficient and cost-effective.

Dickson told the council that the new DPW’s operating costs “will be much higher” because the building it will be occupying is twice as tall and about six times larger, leading to greater expenses for heating, maintenance, insurance and the like.

Boettcher said he wanted to see the City revisit the possibility of keeping the DPW on the City Hall property now that public safety is moving elsewhere.

That might not sit well with at least some of the people who voted for the bond. Tomkowiak said that residents she spoke with who live near the DPW are “tired of garbage trucks and rat problems,” and that was one of the reasons they supported the August ballot issue.

“I don’t believe that it wasn’t thorough,” Tomkowiak said of the facilities studies. “I feel that this is a good thing, and just because it’s in Detroit doesn’t mean that it’s bad.”

Scrace said the City has discussed this issue extensively “over the last two years.” He said Detroit officials “are all very positive” about the City plan, and the hearing “is just a procedural issue. … It’s not a rezoning (request). It’s not an appeal.”

Boettcher ultimately voted in favor of the 60-day purchase agreement extension, but he called on City leaders to review reconfiguring DPW on the City Hall property along with the Canyon option during that time. He noted that two council members — Donald Parthum Jr. and Christopher Walsh — were absent from the Sept. 18 meeting. City Councilman Andrew Turnbull voiced support for Boettcher’s call for review, but Boettcher’s motion for the additional review failed, only getting votes in support from Turnbull and Boettcher himself.