Shamayim "Mama Shu" Harris works from her porch at Avalon Village in Highland Park, Mich. on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. (Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press)

In the contentious dispute over a lot where a community garden grows on Avalon Street in Highland Park, council members on Tuesday voted against the sale of the land to a property developer.

This story also appeared in Detroit Free Press

The garden, run by Avalon Village, has been around since the spring of 2022.  The city of Highland Park owns the lot. A property developer — Premier Michigan Properties (PMP) 51 Avalon, LLC — has wanted to purchase it since 2018 to offer more backyard space for an adjoining boarded-up house the company owns. Meanwhile, Avalon Village has already cultivated a community space there, providing fresh produce and educational experiences for students.

A resolution to sell the vacant residential adjacent lot to the developer failed with three council members voting against it and two members in support of it.

Several speakers during the Highland Park City Council meeting spoke in support of Avalon Village, while one person questioned why Avalon Village should get the lot when PMP applied for it first. Shamayim “Mama Shu” Harris, founder and CEO of Avalon Village, has said if the lot were sold to the developer, the nonprofit would have to uproot the garden.

“I have consistently been working on Avalon Street,” Harris told council members on Tuesday.

Rick Lopez, owner of Premier Michigan Properties, said the company seeks to buy properties in Highland Park in order to refurbish them. PMP bought 40 homes and completed 15 homes. The work, he told council Tuesday, stopped for about three years during the COVID-19 pandemic and has recently resumed. The asking rent ranges from $1,000 to $1,500 a month.

“We’re not here to try to make quick money. We’re here to actually provide the community with 40 homes,” Lopez said Tuesday. PMP 51 Avalon, LLC is a business registered in Michigan but the mailing address is in La Jolla, California, according to state business records. Lopez said PMP leaves a local property manager to take care of homes.

Though it’s not Avalon Village’s land, the nonprofit grew a community garden there because Harris didn’t want the lot to become blighted. People who spoke during a previous city council meeting said the land should go to Avalon because of Harris’ investment in Highland Park and her efforts keeping up the lot. They argued that PMP 51 Avalon, LLC hasn’t kept up the adjacent home it owns. PMP purchased that property from the Wayne County’s tax foreclosure auction in 2017.

Lopez said his company has made improvements to the home and sought to buy the nearby lot from Highland Park since 2018. The backyard of the home PMP owns is taken up by a large garage and so having the adjacent lot would provide more space for tenants. PMP, he said, has followed up with the city each year since it submitted the application for the lot. Avalon Village applied to purchase the space about a month ago, Harris said.

Council Member Khursheed Ash-Shafii said the person who applied for the lot first should get it. Meanwhile, Council President Jamal Thomas said that residents are wary of outside developers.

“There’s a prodigious desire to purchase property in Highland Park and the local residents feel a certain type of anxiety and pressure. … As developers approach our community, they don’t engage us in most cases. They purchase property and they don’t become a part of a community or the neighborhood and so I understand the anxiety that people are talking about,” Thomas said.

Contact Nushrat:; 313-348-7558. Follow her on Twitter: @NushratR.

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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