parking on street
Streets in the Brush Park neighborhood are routinely full of cars taking advantage of free on-street parking, as seen in this Jan. 12, 2023, photo. (BridgeDetroit photo by Malachi Barrett)

There’s nowhere to park in Brush Park. 

Detroiters living in the historic, once-neglected neighborhood say the proximity to entertainment venues that draw visitors from across Southeast Michigan and an explosion of new development is overwhelming parking options for residents north of downtown. 

In response to community concerns, the city’s Municipal Parking Department is drafting a proposal to designate streets where only residents can park after certain hours. If approved by the City Council, the Brush Park proposal would be Detroit’s first residential permit parking program under an ordinance adopted in 2019. 

Parking Director Keith Hutchings held a series of community meetings this month to gather feedback on a plan to add parking meters and designate zones that require a paid permit for evening or overnight parking. Permit-holders would have a limited number of visitor passes each year. The plan isn’t finalized yet. Hutchings said in an email that adjustments could be made based on ongoing engagement with Brush Park residents, businesses and community organizations.

truck parked
Some residents in Brush Park have access to private parking spaces, but people illegally taking their spots is a common problem during major events downtown. (BridgeDetroit photo by Malachi Barrett)

“We expect to submit the final proposal to (the City Council) in the coming weeks and will share our proposed resolution at the meeting,” Hutchings said in a statement. 

BridgeDetroit sought an interview with Hutchings, but a city spokesperson said Hutchings would not be speaking further on the proposal until it is submitted to the City Council. Presentations held for residents in the northern, central and southern parts of Brush Park show the goal is to provide relief for residents, support business activity and disincentivize parking for activities that aren’t in the neighborhood.

Brush Park is a blend of low-income senior housing and freshly-minted condominiums selling for upward of $1 million, home to longtime residents and newcomers, with streets punctuated by architectural marvels and vacant lots. Residents say there are few children in the neighborhood, most are retirees or have moved there to enjoy a taste of urban life before starting a family. Businesses and community institutions also have deep roots in Brush Park.  

Members of the Brush Park Community Development Corporation (CDC), a nonprofit advisory organization, say a permit system is needed to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood. But the idea faces intense scrutiny from two fraternity organizations with houses on the north side of the neighborhood. 

Representatives of Alpha Phi Alpha and Kappa Alpha Psi – are “vehemently opposed” to the proposal. Members of the historic African-American fraternities have protested the creation of resident-only parking zones in public meetings since last November, arguing they won’t have enough spaces for their members. 

A city proposal shared in January shows parking meters would be added to the north side of Elliot and Erskine streets where the fraternity houses sit. Sections of the south side of those streets would become resident-only parking zones after 4 p.m. 

Permits can only be obtained by those who have a mortgage or lease in the designated area, effectively blocking fraternity members from using resident-only zones. The fraternity buildings are not considered residential properties.

“We’ve been at that fraternity house since 1939, when so many people weren’t even here,” Al Elvin, president of the Detroit chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, said during a Jan. 12 community meeting. “We have senior members. To suggest that they park two or three blocks away, I think, is untenable.” 

Council President Mary Sheffield convened a meeting between the fraternities and Brush Park residents this week to find a compromise. Several Brush Park residents who spoke with BridgeDetroit about parking issues requested anonymity, saying they were hesitant to disagree publicly with influential fraternity organizations.

Hutchings acknowledged the division in the Jan. 12 meeting, but said the parking department is doing its best to balance the needs of everyone in Brush Park.

Parking becomes scarce on days when any of Detroit’s three professional sports teams are playing at Little Caesars Arena or Comerica Park, as well as during concerts and events at downtown venues like the Fox Theatre or The Fillmore. 

Parking capacity is further strained from Wayne State University students attending class at the Mike Ilitch School of Business and Detroit Medical Center employees who don’t want to pay for surface lots or garages. 

“Whatever the reason for being there, residents say visitors are in their neighborhood to avoid costly parking lot fees,” Hutchings said during the Jan. 12 presentation. “What makes Brush Park unique is the mix of residential and business and retail and offices. We don’t want to do something that would not make them viable going forward.”

Some Brush Park residents have access to private garages or shared parking structures attached to their homes. Hutchings said the garages become inaccessible when people illegally park in alleyways, a common complaint he heard from residents. Hutchings said the city will ramp up enforcement to address the problem. 

private parking sign
Private parking lots are an option for some residents in Brush Park, but many opt to leave their vehicles on the street. (BridgeDetroit photo by Malachi Barrett)

Detroiters can call (313) 221-2558 to report illegal parking. 

Kyle Swink has access to a two-stall garage attached to his townhome near the corner of John R and Alfred streets. Swink spoke positively about the city’s plan, but worries that continued development of residential housing in the neighborhood is adding to traffic congestion and parking concerns. 

“Personally, it’s not that big of an issue for me, but I can see it being an issue for other people,” Swink said. “I’m in full support of (a residential parking permit), because the people who come and park here are clearly just skating a $20 parking fee in a lot that’s close to Little Caesars Arena because they know they can park here for free.” 

Joe DiMauro has access to a one-car garage included with his townhome at the same intersection. DiMauro said there is ample parking space in garages and it is going unused. He argued residents in Brush Park should pay for a permit. 

“You can’t just allow people to park free forever,” DiMauro said. “Just because you’re a resident doesn’t give you the option to park on the street, the density is too high.” 

Henry Williams said he can’t afford the monthly garage permit offered to residents in his apartment building across the street, which is exclusively for low-income seniors. Williams said it costs an extra $175 per month to secure a spot. He said the parking situation is “terrible,” and made worse with ongoing construction closing off some streets. 

Williams is working with his building management to secure handicapped parking spots for residents with mobility issues. He said disabled seniors shouldn’t have to walk several blocks, especially when carrying groceries or in the snow. 

“I park on the street, wherever I can find a spot,” Williams said. “I understand downtown living is a little more expensive – I get all that – but I’m advocating for the seniors. We’re the ones who get left out here hanging.” 

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