An application to crush concrete at 4445 Lawton was denied by the city’s building department. The owner has appealed the denial and has continued to use the site for solid waste and concrete storage. (BridgeDetroit photo by Jena Brooker)

After months of resident pleading, the City of Detroit has filed a lawsuit against a developer in Core City that has been illegally using his property to dump and store solid waste, with city officials calling the property a public nuisance.

“The subject property remains blighted, illegally occupied, unsafe and/or dangerous as a public nuisance and danger to the safety and welfare of the public,” the suit filed by the city’s law department states. 

The property, 4445 Lawton St., belongs to Patricia Kent and Murray D. Wikol, owner of ProVisions LLC, a Troy-based real estate company. Last year, Wikol submitted a permit application to the city’s Buildings, Safety Engineering, and Environmental Department to crush concrete at the site. The application was denied, but Wikol has continued to use the site illegally and has appealed the permit decision. Since 2022, the developer has received 57 blight violations from the city. 

The lawsuit seeks to have the court declare the property and its owners to be in violation of city code, citing six violations constituting a public nuisance, and to order the immediate clean-up of the site at property owners’ expense.

The City of Detroit has filed a lawsuit against the owner of 4445 Lawton Street arguing the property is being illegally used to dump and store solid waste without a permit and has created a public nuisance. The site, owned by Murray D. Wikol, is shown April 11, 2023, with mounds of debris. (BridgeDetroit photo by Jena Brooker)

The lawsuit states that the driveway and public rights of way are in disrepair, and concrete debris and solid waste are being stored outside. It also cites dust blowing from the property, which would necessitate a fugitive dust plan and report, but one has not been filed. 

The suit comes after months of residents and advocates urging the city to take action to hold Wikol accountable. 

“Murray Wikol’s current site is a disaster area. The 1-2 story tall concrete piles that he is illegally storing tower over my house,” Eleanor Parnell, who lives a block away from the site, said in a statement. “It’s just unjust and unfair,” she added. “We’re so grateful the mayor is taking action against this person who truly believes he’s above the law.”

Wikol was not immediately available for comment. 

The permit application to crush concrete on the Lawton site was filed late last year. Since then, residents have expressed staunch opposition, with nearly 20 speaking out in an online hearing

The city denied the application, and Wikol appealed the decision. A date for the appeal hearing has not been set yet. 

More than 1,600 individuals have signed an online petition calling for the Board of Zoning Appeals to deny Wikol’s appeal. Since the November hearing, neighbors and advocates have formed a Concerned Residents of Core City group to fight the proposed concrete crushing on Lawton, including the current illegal use. 

For months the group has called on the city to force Wikol to clean up the site that they argue posed a health threat to nearby residents. The city issued 57 blight tickets and $44,950 in fines to the property owners between 2022 and February 2023 and city officials confirmed that there are still several thousand dollars in outstanding fines. The owners received additional tickets before 2022. 

To urge the city to force the owners to clean up the site in addition to the violations, Concerned Residents of Core City planned a press conference for later this week with Congressman Shri Thanedar, City Council member Gabriela Santiago-Romero, and Wayne County Commissioner Jonathan Kinloch. The press conference remains scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday at 2901 Buchanan St, organizers said.

Caption: City City residents have rallied against the Lawton Street site being used for concrete crushing and storage. The City of Detroit has filed a nuisance lawsuit against the site owner to mandate clean up at the owner’s expense. (BridgeDetroit photo by Jena Brooker)

“Wikol has been using this site illegally for a few years now,” Andrew Bashi, attorney for the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, said. “The fact in itself that a suit like this deserves press coverage in our city highlights just how rare accountability is when it comes to wealthy property owners,” he added. “Sadly, there are dozens more that have been and continue to be empowered by the city government to wreak havoc on our neighborhoods.” 

The lawsuit states the urgent need for Wikol to secure a Certificate of Compliance, which is required for all commercial buildings and certifies the structure is in full compliance with the property maintenance code and has paid the inspection fee. 

The suit seeks relief by asking the court to require the owners to remove the concrete and large mounds of debris from the property, submit a Fugitive Dust Action Plan and Geotechnical Report, restore the driveway, parking spaces, and sidewalks, submit a report showing the electric fence is safe, and abate all property maintenance violations. 

“Core City has always been a special place, but Murray Wikol is currently destroying all the work we’ve done to keep our neighborhood healthy,” Willie Campbell, executive director of the nonprofit Core City Neighborhoods, said in a statement. “He’s using our Black and low-income community as a sacrifice zone and refuses to clean up the health hazard he has created. This is environmental racism, and he must be held accountable.”

Jena is a BridgeDetroit's environmental reporter, covering everything from food and agricultural to pollution to climate change.

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