Aug. 25, 2016 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
Last week, 190 acres of vacant land in Plymouth Township went up for sale, the final chapter in a long and heated dispute regarding ownership of the property.
The land, located south of Five Mile between Ridge and Napier roads, is the site of the former Detroit House of Corrections prison farm and has been the subject of protracted court battles between the township and the City of Detroit regarding ownership. Township officials purchased the land, once on the tax rolls for more than $15 million, during an erroneous tax foreclosure sale in 2011 for $606,150.
The 190-acres, returned to Detroit by the courts, was part of a 323-acre parcel that was foreclosed on by Wayne County when the recorded owners, Demco 54, a subsidiary of DeMattia Corp., failed to pay taxes. The two parcels were improperly recorded as both belonging to Demco 54 in the Plymouth Township assessor’s office, when in fact, the City of Detroit owned the 190-acre parcel and had never sold or transferred title to the land. The township reported a tax arrearage on the entire section of property to the office of the Wayne County Treasurer which then sold the land to the township at the tax foreclosure sale. Detroit was never notified of any tax arrearage by the township or the county as the notices went to Demco 54 which never paid any tax on any portion of the property.
Notices that did go to Detroit, attorneys demonstrated in court hearings, were sent to an incorrect and insufficient address.
In April 2013 attorneys from Detroit filed a lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court seeking return of the 190 acres. In 2014, despite an unresolved lawsuit and Affidavit of Interest filed by the City of Detroit, certain township officials, inspired by then Supervisor Richard Reaume, launched an advertising campaign for the property to prospective developers seeking offers of an acquisition proposal for infrastructure development of the land they referred to as the Five Mile Technology and Recreation Corridor. Reaume, attempting to sell the contested land, met with Chinese real estate development firm Third Wave Group and discussed the proposed development during a three-day Detroit conference after launching his advertising campaign for the entire 323-acre prison farm property.
Local officials, including those from Northville Township, envisioned the vacant land in the area as “Michigan International Technology Center-Business Park. However, Reaume supported Township Treasurer Ron Edward’s conception for an indoor sports arena and new township recreation complex on the site. Edwards went so far as to meet with one the respondents, Total Sports of Wixom. The Total Sports’ proposal was to build a sports complex with indoor and outdoor facilities such as softball and basketball on the land. In support of that proposal, Edwards convinced the board of trustees to vote down any and all support for the preservation and renovation of the former Central Middle School in downtown Plymouth. Edwards also convinced the board trustees to formally resolve not to enter into any cooperative venture whatsoever with the City of Plymouth for two years in what many characterized as an effort to derail the Plymouth Arts and Recreation Complex (PARC) plan.
In 2015, Wayne County Chief Judge Robert Columbo ruled the entire foreclosure sale transaction was improper and ordered the land returned to Detroit.
Plymouth Township attorneys unsuccessfully appealed that ruling in the State Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel again ruled in favor of the city. Township officials then hired former Michigan State Attorney Mike Cox and his law firm to aid in the arguments and eventually agreed to fund an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court which ultimately refused even to hear the matter. The township paid more than $80,000 to Cox’ firm to file the Supreme Court brief requesting a hearing.
Detroit attorneys successfully argued that, “The Township engineered the foreclosure by failing to send property tax bills to the City despite the fact that the City at all times was owner…” Throughout the legal proceedings, attorneys and representatives from the office of the Wayne County Treasurer consistently argued that the foreclosure was based solely on the information provided to their office by the township and that they had no legal exposure in the matter.
Summit Commercial LLC has listed the subject land for $7.5 million which equals about $39,370 per acre, in sharp contrast to the township purchase price of $606,150, including back taxes, or $3,181 per acre. At the time of the foreclosure sale, Plymouth Township officials obtained an installment purchase contract with the Bank of Ann Arbor. A balance on the bank loan requires $17,000 per month payments, according to township records.
Summit agent Ben Smith said the “Very desirable property is priced to sell.”