Residents upset over church’s parking lot plan

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published April 23, 2015

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SOUTHFIELD — Residents chanting “Down with parking lots, up with neighborhoods,” and “Council doesn’t care about neighborhoods” were hoping the City Council would change its mind on the recent approval of a church’s parking lot plan.

At its March 23 meeting, the council approved 3-1 a special use and site plan for New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, 23455 Nine Mile Road, to expand its parking lot by 46 spaces into residentially zoned property on Sargent Street.

The church — which owns five homes on the street — also gained permission to turn one of the homes into a counseling center and to create a picnic area.

Council President Sylvia Jordan and councilmen Ken Siver and Lloyd Crews voted in favor of the plan, while Councilwoman Joan Seymour voted against it. Councilmen Sid Lantz and Myron Frasier were not at the meeting.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously against the plan at a previous meeting.

Two protests and an attempted mayoral veto later, the church’s plan still stands, much to the disappointment of residents in the South Berg Association.
About 10 members of the neighborhood association held a protest April 18 in front of City Hall to display their dissatisfaction with the vote and to urge council members to reconsider.

“We don’t believe it’s morally and ethically right for a church to intrude on a neighborhood,” said 28-year resident Lynn Rife, treasurer of the South Berg Association.

Over 30 people spoke for and against the plan at the March 23 City Council meeting. Some people against the plan said it would ruin the neighborhood, deplete the wildlife and take away the family atmosphere. People in favor of the plan said the church would only enhance the neighborhood.

New Hope Missionary Baptist Church Pastor David Roberson said the church has changed its plans several times, taking the neighborhood’s concerns into consideration.

“I want to work with the community,” Roberson said. “We didn’t move forward until the council told us we can move forward. It’s only fair. We’re compromising. Nobody can get everything they want.”

Resident Ruby McGraw said she felt as though the council wasn’t listening to the neighborhood’s concerns.

“All the council members nodded like they were really listening to us, but they had their minds made up,” McGraw said. “It was just like our time was wasted and our time had no value, because they already knew what they were going to do.”

Rife said members of the neighborhood association are questioning the motives of the council members.

“We feel like it was a very political move because two people who are on the council want to run for mayor,” Rife said.

Siver and Jordan have both announced plans to run for mayor in the next election. Rife said the council members’ vote could have been swayed by the numbers of people in each respective group.

According to Rife, the South Berg Association is made up of 262 people, while New Hope Missionary Baptist Church is made up of roughly 2,100 people, according to Roberson.

Siver said his vote had nothing to do with him running for mayor. He said he voted for the plan because he believes the neighborhood is in transition.

“The only thing I can say to that (is) some people are looking for reasons, and that’s not one of them,” Siver said. “I’ve explained my reasons, and I think that compromise was in order.”

Jordan would not comment on the matter by press time.

At the April 14 council meeting, which was delayed by one day due to a water main break at the municipal complex, acting Mayor Donald Fracassi expressed his disapproval of the council’s vote and attempted to veto the approval.

“The mayor, council and staff have to be committed to developing a strong coalition with our residential associations and respecting them when there are negative intrusions into the neighborhoods,” Fracassi said at the April 14 meeting.

According to City Attorney Susan Ward-Witkowski, Fracassi does not have the power to veto a special use and site plan. Ward-Witkowski cited the 2003 lawsuit Livonia Hotel v. City of Livonia, in which it was determined that a mayor cannot veto a special use and site plan unless it is specified in the special use beforehand.

Ward-Witkowski said a special use first goes to the Planning Commission, then to the City Council for approval or denial.

“That’s where our ordinance stops, and again, it says nothing about a mayoral veto. So, I see no subjective difference between the Livonia hotel case and our situation,” Ward-Witkowski said. “I don’t see that, based on this case with our zoning ordinance the way it is today, I don’t see that your veto is effective.”

“(The residents) have no say-so at all, because now they can’t even go to the mayor,” Fracassi said.

Seymour also restated her disapproval of the vote at the April 14 meeting.

“The church thinks they have a parking problem,” she said. “They took their problem and made it the neighborhood’s problem.”

City Clerk Nancy Banks said the council might still be able to reconsider its vote.

“What can happen from this point forward, they could reconsider the vote,” Banks said.

Roberson said he and the members of his church want to reside in the community peacefully.

“We are hoping and praying we can all live in this community together. We’ve been here for 32 years serving this community,” Roberson said.

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