Judge returns township land to Detroit
Plymouth resident Richard Sharland and Wayne County Legislative Assistant Beverly Kindle-Walker after Wayne County Judge orders DeHoCo land returned to Detroit
Mar. 7, 2015 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
“I think the whole plan from the beginning was to steal the property from the city…”
By: Don Howard
Plymouth Township has been ordered by Wayne County Court Chief Judge Robert J. Colombo to return a 190-acre parcel of farmland purchased from Wayne County to the City of Detroit, the rightful owners of the property.
The parcel of land, located at Five Mile and Ridge roads is the site of the former Detroit House of Correction, also known as DeHoCo, which closed in 1986. Plymouth Township obtained the land, which includes an uncontested portion, in September 2011 for $606,150, according to Wayne County Chief Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski. The land, along with the uncontested portion, had been on the tax assessment rolls at $15 million at one time. The county sold the land to the township at a tax foreclosure sale after township officials reported unpaid taxes on the parcel. In fact, according to court records, ownership of the land had been erroneously recorded in the township assessor’s office and Detroit, the legal owner of the land, was never notified of taxes due.
Township resident Richard Sharland, who owns land near the contested property, became curious about the actual ownership of the land when a friend told him it had been sold. Sharland’s research proved that Detroit was actually the legal owner of the land and he subsequently called the erroneous transaction to the attention of Detroit City Council members with the help of Beverly Kindle-Walker a legislative assistant to Wayne County Commissioner Tim Killeen.
Sharland said his impression at that time was that Detroit representatives would attempt to “work things out” with Plymouth Township rather than have to pursue legal redress.
Detroit attorneys initially filed a lawsuit April 2013 after attempted negotiations with the township were unsuccessful. In January, attorneys for both the City of Detroit and Plymouth Township filed for summary judgment and motion calls were heard last Friday before Colombo.
After three years of continuing investigation and legal wrangling, Colombo ruled in favor of the City of Detroit. In his ruling, Colombo rejected the Plymouth Township motion and granted summary disposition to the City of Detroit based on their argument that state laws forbid the foreclosure of public land. Attorneys also argued that the City of Detroit was never correctly notified of the tax arrearage.
Also named as defendants in the suit were the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office and Wayne County Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz.
“Detroit was not given an equal opportunity,” Colombo said in his summation.
Colombo continued, citing a Supreme Court ruling, “An individual needs to be given reasonable effort to be heard.”
Wayne County attorney Jack Ghannam said the county relied completely on information received from Plymouth Township regarding the foreclosure proceedings.
Timothy Becket, former supervising assistant corporation counsel in the Detroit Law Department Real Property and Tax Appeals section, filed an affidavit in January 2013 in the Wayne County Register of Deeds in hopes of reversing the transfer of the property without legal action. Detroit attorneys said that at that time the Law Department representatives met with Plymouth Township Supervisor Richard Reaume and Clerk Nancy Conzelman but were unable to reach any reasonable resolution.
With the court ruling the township now owns only the 133-acre portion of the 323- acre parcel and nearly 77 acres of that land are in a flood plain or are wetlands and unsuitable for construction, according to property records.
Township officials have been actively involved in the proposed Five Mile Technology Park which includes Northville Township. Sources close to the project reacted negatively to the decision Friday and noted of Plymouth”…they would have little to bring to the table for participation,” in the proposed development.
The township borrowed the purchase price of $606,149.98 from Bank of Ann Arbor and continues to make monthly payments of $17,691.90. As of December 2014 the balance on the bank loan was $429,269.30 at 3.10 percent interest with 27 payments remaining.
Kindle Walker said she was pleased and called Colombo’s ruling, “…a correct assessment of the law.”
Sharland said he was elated at the court decision.
“I think the whole plan from the beginning was to steal the property from the city,” he said. “I was confident it would turn out this way. I’m very pleased to see justice prevail.”