Historic commission denies parking plan
Dec. 17, 2015 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
Plans to demolish three historic buildings, one an Underground Railroad site, to make way for more downtown parking were abruptly halted last week by members of the Plymouth Historic District Commission.
After more than four hours of discussion, including opinions from business owners and residents who often strongly differed on the question, the six commission members in attendance voted against the plan of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to develop a 90-spot parking lot at the corner of Deer and Ann Arbor Trail.
The proposal would have demolished the Saxton’s building and the neighboring building which now houses a train shop and a ticket broker. A vacant house at 674 Maple, an adjacent lot, would also be razed as part of the DDA plan.
The commissioners heard from business owners and operators along with residents, many of whom heatedly disagreed about the best use of the site. More than 100 people crowded the Plymouth City Hall meeting room for the much-publicized meeting last Wednesday, Dec. 2 which continued until after 11 p.m.
Historic Commission members said more information was needed before they could consider approving the razing of the buildings.
Daniel B. Sabo, the great-grandson of George Anson Starkweather (1826-1907) who was Plymouth Village President and Plymouth Township supervisor, and the grandson of Karl Starkweather for whom Stardkweather School is named has been adamantly opposed to the razing of the buildings. He quoted research by Mildred Hanchett, who authored, The Underground Railroad in the Wayne Area.
“Another station was said to have been in a building now occupied by the Saxton Feed Company on Ann Arbor Trail, about where Penniman Avenue branches off below the park. Some time ago this building was being remodeled, and it was found that there was a false ceiling, with a space between it and the other ceiling, where the slaves were secreted. This was told by Mrs. Arthur Mills, of Plymouth who several years ago investigated some of the stories for a paper she was writing for the Plymouth Historical Society,” Hanchett’s research said.
“I think to demolish the site for a parking structure, would be a very poor way for this commission to honor those in Plymouth who risked their lives, limb and property, when they hid escaped slaves on the way to Canada. It would also be a poor way for the City of Plymouth to honor diversity,” Sabo told the commission members.
“There are many other reasons why this site should not be demolished. I think if this commission voted to approve of demolition, in the eyes of residents and those that call Plymouth their home town, it would be a decision this commission, and Plymouth city government, will never recover from. I say this because it states on the City of Plymouth website, that primary duties of this commission is to safeguard the heritage of the City of Plymouth…foster civic beauty,” he added.
The DDA owns the property, purchased from the Saxton family for a reported $2.25 million last year. No construction or demolition can take place at the site with- out the approval of the Historic Commission members since it is located within the city historic district.
According to Tony Bruscato of the DDA, the mission of the group “to add to the downtown parking stock, particularly on the Saxton’s parcel, remains. It will simply require some additional time, energy, and creativity on our behalf to make it a reality.”
He suggested in an email to local businesses that they should, “Keep an eye on the DDA board meeting agenda (every second Thursday of the month, 7 p.m. at city hall) as the Saxton’s property is a monthly item.”