two people standing in front of a sign
Residents Vanessa Butterworth and Chrystal Ridgeway are organizing a fight against a proposed concrete crusher in Core City, directly adjacent to the future site of the new Pope Francis center, a supportive housing center. A community meeting and press conference was held December 14, 2022. (BridgeDetroit photo by Jena Brooker)

Residents of the Core City neighborhood gathered around a fire to rally against plans for a concrete crushing facility near their homes and urban farms.

ProVisions LLC, a Troy-based real estate developer, is advancing a plan to city officials that would permit a concrete crusher at 4445 Lawton St. in Core City. The site is zoned for heavy industrial use and concrete crushing on the lot is allowed, but residents are demanding that the city rezone the land to protect an area which is also home to a residential community, farms, gardens and several locally-owned businesses.

people gathered around the fire
Residents, activists and local elected officials gathered on December 14, 2022, a block from a proposed concrete crushing operation, to discuss how to stop the plans. (BridgeDetroit photo by Jena Brooker)

“I would hope that city leaders would have enough wisdom to see that this (proposal) should be rejected,” said Willie Campbell, a resident of the neighborhood and executive director of Core City Neighborhood. “The city of Detroit probably needs to set standards such that people are not tempted to try this type of development in an area like this.” 

Detroit’s Buildings, Safety Engineering, and Environmental Department (BSEED) held a public hearing in November to consider an application from parcel owner and ProVisions President Murray Wikol to crush concrete at the Lawton site. BSEED is expected to decide on the permit before the end of the month.

On Tuesday, District 6 Council Member Santiago-Romero sent a letter to Mayor Mike Duggan’s office and BSEED opposing permits for the Core City operation, and a different concrete crushing facility on Detroit’s riverfront.  

“We should be working to beautify and protect our communities, including the riverfront, so that they are healthy, thriving, and vibrant. These facilities would do the opposite,” Santiago-Romero wrote, noting the potential for diminished air and water quality due to old concrete contaminated with asbestos or other toxic materials. 

Approximately 20 residents attended last month’s public hearing to urge officials to deny the permit due to the threat of noise and dust pollution. Some Detroiters are concerned about air pollution in a city where the asthma rate is three times that of the state of Michigan, and disproportionately affects Black residents. 

Opponents say approval of the project will jeopardize the health of Black residents that have lived in the neighborhood for decades. The community is also the future site of the Pope Francis Center, a new housing campus for people experiencing homelessness. 

Businesses and community organizations, including Fisheye Farms and The Huckleberry Explorers Club, have also voiced opposition to the facility and signed a petition that gained more than 1,000 signatures since the hearing. 

row of plants
Fisheye Farms, located at 2334 Buchanan, is one of the farms and gardens in the neighborhood that residents are concerned could be affected by dust pollution or contaminated runoff water from concrete crushing. (Courtesy photo) 

While BSEED considers the permit application, residents are crafting a plan to ensure the site is never used for concrete crushing or other industrial activities they believe would harm the neighborhood. Options include purchasing the land, asking the city council to change zoning, or — if all else fails — filing a lawsuit. 

“We don’t want any business owner that’s interested in Detroit to feel dismissed or to feel shamed by us. We’re just concerned about our family, we’re concerned about the soil, we’re concerned about our farming,” said Vanessa Butterworth, a resident who lives a block from the site. 

Butterworth told BridgeDetroit that residents are willing to pay $13,000 for the lot.

The site was first purchased by Wikol in 2013 for $1,300 and is currently listed for sale for $882,000. He did not return a request for comment. 

Residents argued, in a letter to Mayor Duggan, that concrete crushing is not aligned with the city’s Master Plan and would make neighborhood revitalization difficult. 

Christopher Goluk, a planning commissioner, told BridgeDetroit that rezoning offers a more permanent solution to preventing industrial activity in the neighborhood. 

Santiago-Romero told BridgeDetroit she would “absolutely” consider advocating for a zoning change. 

“That’s why I’ve been pushing for the Master Plan updates. I’ve been asking that from the very beginning,” she said, adding that they have the money to update the master plan and rezone industrial areas in neighborhoods to be residential or mixed-use. 

Santiago-Romero’s predecessor Raquel Castañeda-López successfully advocated for the rezoning of two Southwest Detroit neighborhoods when she was representing District 6. Last year, the sites were from heavy industrial to limited industrial or residential zones. 

A spokesperson for Democratic U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib also spoke against the Core City crushing project.  

In Core City, residents are also concerned about the track record for the operator of the project, Vaughn Smith, who has received several violations from EGLE for other facilities in Michigan. 

fenced area
A Troy company wants to operate a concrete crushing facility in Core City at 4445 Lawton St., next to residents, farms and the new Pope Francis center. (Courtesy photo)

On the west side of Detroit, Smith received a violation for crushing concrete closer to a residential building than his permit allowed. The facility was also cited for not having the required methods to control dust, and over the summer, Smith received another violation for failing to submit an air pollution report on time. 

Smith could not be immediately reached Wednesday for comment. 

BSEED’s decisions can be appealed by either residents or ProVisions, LLC.

However, BSEED routinely approves similar permits. From 2020 to 2021, the department received 82 industrial and manufacturing proposals and denied just one, a proposal to build an asphalt plant in Northwest Detroit. 

In the event that the permit is denied and the company appeals, Butterworth confirmed that residents will be represented by an attorney at the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center to keep fighting the issue. 

“The reason that state agencies and municipal agencies are allowing these sorts of industries to be sited in communities of color is really part of the legacy of redlining a lot of these communities into concentrated areas and discriminatory zoning practices because of that,” said John Petoskey, an Earthjustice lawyer representing activist groups in a lawsuit against EGLE for permitting an asphalt plant in Flint next to low-income housing. 

“It’s really part of a legacy of decisions on the part of cities, municipalities and states to concentrate pollution in communities of color, likely to keep it away from white communities that don’t want it,” Petoskey said. “It leads to situations where all of the burden of pollution are shouldered by Black, Latino, Indigenous communities,” he said, while the benefits, like paved roads and concrete to build homes are used by “communities that can afford to take advantage of the products that are being manufactured by the industry.” 

Tim McCabe, executive director of the Pope Francis Center, told BridgeDetroit, “I have every confidence that the mayor and city council will put the health and safety of Detroit citizens first and so have no doubt they will do the right thing here.”

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

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1 Comment

  1. Zoning and master planning in Detroit are a bad joke on the residents. There is no acknowledgement of what already exists. Why else would my neighborhood, which has been residential for 150 years, be zoned for business uses?

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