Activists concerned over plans to sell off parts of Wayne County parks

Posted at 6:06 AM, Jan 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-09 11:53:58-05

WAYNE COUNTY, Mich. (WXYZ) — Wayne County is looking to sell off a series of old buildings found within Hines Park, but the plans have activists rattled that green space will soon disappear.

The county has been seeking to create something called the “Mill Run Project.” It involves selling three historic mills once operated by Henry Ford along the Middle Rouge River — the hope is to get private business signed on to rehab the buildings while re-working the green space surrounding them.

“We require them to create more park space than exists, to be open dawn to dusk,” explained Khalil Rahal, the assistant Wayne County Executive. “This is a win, win, win situation. More park space and somebody else to pay fort while reinvigorating the space.”

Moves have already been made to sell one of the historic mills — a deal has been passed by the Wayne County Commission that will have a private group re-work the Phoenix Mill that sits in a triangle between Edward Hines Drive, Northville Road and the Metro Trail near Phoenix Lake. The original owner — Henry Ford — used it for electric parts manufacturing, though it would eventually become one of the sites where women became a large part of the Michigan war efforts during World War II.

“Phoenix Mill is already done with, now we’ve got to protect the other two,” said Bill Craig, a member of the group Save Hines Park.

Craig told 7 Action News that he believes the developer of the Phoenix Mill has his heart in the right place, that he’s looking to restore a historical mark and improve the area. What concerns him is that the next two mills are linked to large swaths of land inside the Hines Park footprint. The Wilcox Mill, for instance, has an 11-acre parcel attached.

While the county has said the plan saves the buildings — they’re requiring any development pitches include details on how to save the buildings, and to commit to keeping the remaining green space open for park hours — Craig said that it’s a slippery, if not dangerous, slope to be selling off park land. He’s upset that money from a park millage that was passed more than a decade ago, wasn’t allocated to keep the buildings, and the county’s history, alive.

“They basically abandoned these mills and now they say they’re so precious,” said Craig. “In order to save them we have to sell them? That’s unacceptable.”

The Save Hines Park group is rallying the community to reject plans to move the properties — as it stands now, both the Wilcox Mill and the Newburgh Mill have for sale signs in front of them.

The Wilcox Mill, located at Edward Hines Drive and Wilcox Road, has been abandoned for quite some time. A few years ago there was talk of an artisan workshop being put inside the space, but those plans fell through. The Newburgh Mill is run down, but is being used currently by the county. A sign is posted that allows for, “authorized personnel only,” but a number of road workers were spotted walking in and out. A horse stable has been built next to it that houses the mounted patrol division for the Wayne County Sheriff.

While the Save Hines Park group argues the sales would be a loss of green space, the county counters that the current use of land falls short of what you’d imagine when you hear the term “green space.”

“It’s not accessible to the public,” said Rahal. “The building is in real rough shape. You can see a chimney leaning, holes in the wall. I can’t imagine anyone going to Newburgh Mill and saying, ‘This is park space,’ because it’s not.”

Details of what could end up on the land is unclear. Rahal noted that because negotiations are ongoing with developers pitching their ideas to build on the land, they can’t disclose all the details. That said, a public vote would have to be held before any moves are made. Pressed whether residential developments could be built on the Wilcox Mill property, Rahal said that they’ve been approached by some developers and rejected ideas because they didn’t fit the look, or feel, that they’re looking to create with the Mill Run project. It doesn’t mean residential won’t be considered in that area.

The county is planning for public meetings once details surrounding the possible sale of the mills comes to fruition. In the meantime, more information on the Mill Run Project is available by clicking here. A few city councils have also heard presentations about the project.

“The department of economic development has been doing what I call candy-coated presentations to city councils and telling them all these great things,” said Nancy Darga, another member of the Save Hines Park movement.

A community town hall meeting will be held in Livonia Wednesday night by Save Hines Park to discuss the issue.