The cul-de-sac at the end of Green Valley Street has been one of the many draws to the area for residents.

The cul-de-sac at the end of Green Valley Street has been one of the many draws to the area for residents.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Southfield residents raise concerns over emergency access driveway

By: Jacob Herbert | Southfield Sun | Published April 9, 2021

 Southfield Public Schools officials said they’ve consulted with the Southfield Fire Department and the Police Department before deciding on Green Valley Street as the only viable access point.

Southfield Public Schools officials said they’ve consulted with the Southfield Fire Department and the Police Department before deciding on Green Valley Street as the only viable access point.

Photo by Deb Jacques


SOUTHFIELD — On the evening of Aug. 14, 2020, the residents of Green Valley Street opened their mailboxes. Inside was a letter from the Southfield Planning Department that talked about a construction project taking place at the end of their street.

“We immediately called the numbers on the form and found out Southfield Public Schools had petitioned the city of Southfield to use the easement at the end of Green Valley Street as an emergency access road,” said Camille Johnson, who has lived on Green Valley Street for 25 years. “Nobody knew about this. We were all just walking around stunned with this piece of paper in our hands.”

The portion of Green Valley Street that Johnson lives on is off of 10 Mile Road between Lahser and Berg roads. At the end of this particular block is a cul-de-sac followed by a wooded area that separates the residents of Green Valley Street from Southfield High School for the Arts and Technology and the John W. English Administrative Center.

Southfield Public Schools had developed a plan to build an emergency access driveway connecting Green Valley Street to the school. The Southfield City Council entertained a motion to vote on the driveway, but that motion did not receive a second, so it was not voted on. The city chose not to fight the district on the lawsuit due to what they felt was a case they could not win. Southfield Public Schools Superintendent Jennifer Green said the project is going to cost around $100,000.

The district then took up an eminent domain case with the city of Southfield. Eminent domain allows the school board to take private land, but only with proper compensation. The school board paid the city an $800 good faith offer. As a result of this case, the City Council asked for two stipulations for when the driveway is built. The first thing they asked is that the school board replace any trees they take down to make room for the driveway. The second thing the city asked for was a gate at both ends of the driveway.

The Clark Hills Law firm is representing the school board in this case. In a letter addressed to Green Valley Street residents Kurt and Jane Miller through the law firm, Green wrote that Michigan law exempts school districts from complying with zoning requirements like tree ordinances that add significant costs to developments, costs that add to the overall taxpaying public’s burden for a school project.

Jane Miller grew up on Green Valley Street and now lives in a house on the street that she has owned for 23 years. She and her husband, Kurt, have raised children of their own on the street.

“This is where I learned to ride my bike,” Miller said. “It’s a very quiet, safe street and neighborhood. So hearing that our cul-de-sac was going to have an emergency access road connecting to it was upsetting.”

They are not taking issue against the safety of students, residents said, but they feel the district has been unclear on the exact plan for the road and have been unable to properly explain if any other safety precautions were considered inside the school before deciding on an emergency access driveway.

“Everyone on this block cares about the children’s safety, but that seems to be an afterthought,” Miller said. “If they need that emergency exit, something has already happened inside the school, so why not put those funds inside the school to protect them?”

With the construction of this emergency access road and what she said is a lack of communication around it, Johnson said Board of Education members are turning away from statements of transparency, building better relationships and being environmentally friendly.

Johnson has attempted to send Freedom of Information Act requests to the school board in order to access missing meeting minutes from the district’s website. In an attempt to understand if the district considered traffic and environmental studies before deciding upon the emergency access, John asked for any studies the school board implemented before making its current decision. At press time, Johnson said, she has not received any of the information she has asked for.

“There’s been no communication,” Johnson said. “The only communication was when City Council forced Southfield Public Schools to have a couple of town halls, which was nothing, because they were really just telling us what they’re going to do.”

Residents of Green Valley Street fear a drop in property values once the driveway is built. Johnson said it will be difficult to sell houses on a block that features an emergency access driveway. She said the cul-de-sac is one of the major draws to the neighborhood.

The Clark Hill letter addressed to the Millers mentions MCL 380.1308b, a new law that is part of the revised school code. The law became effective March 21, 2019, and states that “a school district… shall, in conjunction with at least one law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction over the school district,...conduct a review of the emergency operations plan during the 2019-2020 school year and on an ongoing basis thereafter. The emergency operations plan is required to review a number of issues including school violence and attacks, bomb threats, fire, weather-related emergencies, intruders, parent and pupil reunification, a plan to improve school building security, continuity of operations after an incident and vulnerability assessment.”

In order to comply with the new law, the district consulted both city’s police and fire departments, along with the Department of Homeland Security. After consulting each of these departments, the district was informed of the necessity of adding a new access point.

“To emphasize, the District was required by law to consult with the City’s police and fire departments and is now acting to implement a safety requirement identified by them,” the letter states. “The actions being taken by the District to create a new driveway are compelled by the Michigan legislature mandate through the new law and the suggestions provided by the City’s professional staff.”

The letter also states that the district considered building a driveway at other possible access points in Southfield, but landed on Green Valley Street as the only viable location. Adding a driveway to the north adds little value to the situation as the school already has two access points directly onto 10 Mile Road. A driveway to the east, on Lahser Road, would also create issues due to a natural gas pipeline and the Rouge River. Crossing the Rouge River or a natural gas pipeline would increase the cost of the project to the taxpayers.

Adding this emergency access point at the end of Green Valley Street provides superior accessibility in the event of an emergency as designated vehicles can reach the school while avoiding traffic on Lahser and 10 Mile roads, according to the district.

“Green Valley Street connects to interior streets with access from Ten Mile at multiple locations west of the Lahser and Ten Mile intersection, Nine Mile, and Berg Roads, allowing circumvention of the 10 Mile and Lahser intersection, which would be impacted by any emergency requiring use of the new access point,” the letter reads.

The emergency access driveway will be fenced in and gated. It will also be limited to use by emergency access vehicles only.

As for the lack of communications, Green said the district acted quickly upon learning the residents had not received the district’s original letter before it was too late.

“The district immediately scheduled several virtual question-and-answer sessions,” Green said via email. “To answer the residents’ questions and/or address the residents’ concerns, present in the virtual room were members of the school district, Fire Department and the construction management team. Furthermore, the district continued to respond to emails and phone calls relative to this matter.”

Residents, however, believe the process was poorly conducted.

“If they came to us early in this whole process and convinced us that this was the one and only way to improve the safety of the students and staff, which is all this money is supposed to go towards, then we would have been more willing to accept the road,” Miller said. “They haven’t gone after any grants, and I believe there’s much better solutions to satisfy what the mandate wants from the school districts.”