Detroit attorneys deny land talks
Photo: © Don Howard/Associated Newspapers of Michigan
In 2015 Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert Columbo ruled in favor of the city and ordered the township to immediately return the DeHoCo property to the rightful owner. Assistant Wayne County Corporation Counsel Jacob Ghannam (left) and Plymouth Township Attorney Kevin Bennett in court, February 2015.
May 12, 2016 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
“Cox doesn’t return calls. All we get are insults. It’s time to reassess our legal options.”
Attorneys for the City of Detroit have expressed their frustration with attempts to reach some agreement with Plymouth Township officials in an ongoing land dispute.
“I think it’s time to re-evaluate our legal options,” stated Deputy Corporate Counsel for Detroit Chuck Raimi last week, following a decision by the Michigan Supreme Court favoring Detroit and denying the appeal of the township in the controversy.
Raimi adamantly denied that any negotiation was ongoing between Detroit and Plymouth Township regarding a settlement of taxes paid on land purchased by the township.
The City of Detroit and the township have been battling for several years about the erroneous tax sale of a 190-acre piece of property that was once the site of the Detroit House of Corrections Prison Farm. Detroit has owned the land for nearly 100 years but when a portion of the property was sold to a local developer, the property split was not correctly recorded and tax bills for the entire 323 acres sent to the developer who never paid any taxes on any portion of the land.
Plymouth Township then notified Wayne County of the unpaid taxes on the parcel of land and, based on that information, county officials sent delinquent tax notices and then ultimately foreclosed on the land. Following the foreclosure, the county treasurer offered the entire 323-acre parcel of and at a tax sale and it was purchased by Plymouth Township, the entity which initially reported the delinquency.
The township paid $606,000 in 2011 for the land and has paid property taxes of about $102,000 on the property since that time.
The City of Detroit subsequently sued the township for return of the 190-acre section erroneously recorded, noting that tax notices were sent to an incorrect address and that municipally-owned land is exempt from foreclosure proceedings under state law.
In 2015, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert Columbo ruled in favor of the city and ordered the township to immediately return the property to the rightful owner. The township appealed that ruling and was again unsuccessful with the Michigan Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel, who upheld Columbo’s ruling and the Detroit position in January.
The township then hired former Michigan State Attorney General Mike Cox who persuaded the Township Board of Trustees to take the issue to the Michigan Supreme Court in an effort to “continue negotiations” with attorneys for Detroit and Wayne County regarding the taxes paid by the township. That measure was authorized by a 3-2 vote of the board members in March. Last week, the Michigan Supreme Court denied that brief to appeal, ruling in favor of Detroit.
Attorneys for Wayne County adamantly deny the reported claims of township officials that negotiations for a settlement on the taxes the township paid on the land are under way.
Chief Assistant Wayne County Corporation Counsel Jacob Ghannam said the county relied completely on information received from Plymouth Township regarding the foreclosure proceedings and has no liability or legal exposure in the situation.
Ghannam said Friday that there are no negotiations taking place regarding the property. He said that while the county was previously facilitating negotiations between attorneys for the city and the township, he knows of no such continuing negotiations at this time.
“No–we’re pretty much done,” Ghannam said this week.
“We gave a recommendation as to what both sides needed to do, that is the city and the township. It’s Detroit’s property and a tax adjustment needs to be made between those two parties,” he said.
“But, I don’t know of any negotiations; you might want to talk to Mike Cox,” Ghannam remarked.
Raimi, too, was adamant that there are no ongoing negotiations with township officials.
“We have tried to negotiate with the township over and over since 2012,” Raimi said. “The township officials don’t return calls. Cox doesn’t return calls. All we get are insults. It’s time we reassess our legal options,” he said.
During a special board meeting in March, Township Supervisor Shannon Price told board members that the town- ship would be walking away from more than $220,000 if no further appeal of the court decisions were authorized.
“Wouldn’t you bet $75,000 to get $220,000?” Price said after the special board meeting in March, referring to the estimate provided by the Cox law firm to create the brief to request a motion to appeal to the Supreme Court. Those fees are now estimated at $87,000.
With the original $606,000 the township paid for the land, the estimated back taxes and legal fees to date, the township has invested about $800,000 for 133 acres of land, 77 of which are unbuildable.