First building demolished in blighted Liberty Square housing complex
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
By that afternoon, a large potion of the first of 17 buildings in the Ypsilanti Township housing complex had been torn down. It marked the beginning of a three-month demolition process.
“It’s bringing me phenomenal satisfaction to watch the jaws of destruction bringing it down,” said Ypsilanti Township Building Director Ron Fulton.
Over the last three years, Fulton played a key role in the multi-department effort to get the 26-acre property brought up to code, and, when that failed, the long legal battle to condemn the property and convince a judge to order it vacated and torn down.
“By far it’s the largest blight-busting project and for me it’s a momentous occasion,” Fulton said. “This is marking a three-year concerted effort with the Board of Trustees, Sheriffs Office, attorneys and office of community standards.
“It didn’t have to be this away it could have remained a viable community. Unfortunately no one maintained it, so it’s coming down."
Township Clerk Karen Lovejoy Roe recalled the litany of problems Liberty Square caused while she was supervisor from 1996 through 2004.
The property was a drain on police resources and was consistently in violation of a wide range of codes and ordinances.
“It has been a long haul, and it's a sad day in a way, but we’re dealing with the reality of the situation,” she said. “It was condemned and the court ordered it to come down, and now we’re looking forward to new development on the site."
She said the township tried all it could to remedy the issues at the 151-unit complex, but there were always new problems arising and chronic crime.
“Those days are now behind us, so we can redeploy our building officials, fire department, police officers,” Lovejoy Roe said.
"Between my sheriff's department years and my township years, I've been dealing with this place for over 30 years and it was never good," said Mike Radzik, director of the office of community standards and police services. "It was an exhilarating feeling watching the first building come down."
The demolition was preceded by a small event at which state officials from the Michigan Land Bank came to knock down the first wall.
Kim Homan, the land bank's director, discussed the impact removing abandoned properties has on an area.
“Blight removal improves property values and helps grow area businesses," she said. "The partnership for this demolition between the Michigan Land Bank and Ypsilanti Township is a perfect example of how land banks can assist municipalities with getting properties back into productive use. With the ability to remove blighted structures, the township can now move forward with plans to rezone the property for commercial and retail space, bringing additional resources into their community in the form of jobs and revenue.”
The demolition project is funded, in part, by a grant from the Michigan Land Bank. Ypsilanti Township is one of 34 grantees awarded funding through the Michigan Blight Elimination Program.
The $654,000 the township received for the project includes the direct cost of demolition, but does not include the more than $170,000 the township has spent on legal fees, boarding-up fees, an asbestos survey and asbestos abatement.
The grant funds were part of a $97 million settlement banks agreed to pay the state of Michigan for their role in the foreclosure crisis. The settlement came after a national class action lawsuit filed by Michigan, 48 other states and the federal government, and some of the money was earmarked for blight elimination projects.
The township’s award was among the largest sums provided directly for the demolition of one site.
Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter for AnnArbor.com. Contact the news desk at email@example.com or 734-623-2572.