(WXYZ) — We teach our kids not to bully others in school, but neighbors in one local city say they feel like their school district is bullying them. The district is taking over city property to build an emergency access road — and now the residents worry they’ll be bulldozed by buses.
Green Valley Street is a quiet, peaceful cul-de-sac in Southfield.
“People walk and enjoy the quiet back here. And for as long as I can remember in my lifetime, it’s been this way. It’s just been one of the greatest streets in Southfield,” said long-time resident Jane Miller.
But Miller and her neighbors say the Southfield Public School district is about to shatter that peace and quiet.
“You’re trying to make a freeway out of our neighborhood,” said resident Pastor Daniel Moore.
Southfield High School and the district offices are next door to the subdivision. School leaders say they need to build an emergency access road from behind their district bus depot through a wooded area to connect with Green Valley St. That means several trees and a fence would have come down.
“I’m afraid that there’s going to be a lot of traffic, clearly we’re not equipped for buses, fire trucks. There are no sidewalks here ... just ditches. Where are you supposed to go,” said resident Camille Johnson.
The neighbors say the whole project has been shrouded in secrecy. Even though the school board approved the plan in November of 2019, neighbors say they had no idea until they received sudden construction notices in their mailbox in August of 2020.
“We were just all walking along the street going ‘what is this, we have no idea,’” said Johnson.
The residents called the city, and ultimately the Southfield City Council would not approve the district’s request to purchase a small city easement to build the road. The neighbors thought they’d prevailed — until months later when someone anonymously left a notice from a law firm in Jane Miller’s mailbox.
“Handwritten at the top it said ‘Charles Hicks coming at you,’” Miller told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.
Charles Hicks is the president of the Southfield Board of Education.
“All the neighbors were in shock,” said Miller.
Using eminent domain, the district took over the city’s 15-foot easement next to their property so they could build their emergency road for “the public good.”
“We certainly don’t want to be spending public money fighting with one another. Or going through legal proceedings, going to court,” said Southfield Mayor Ken Siver.
Siver says the city council really tried to help the taxpayers but recognized they’d probably lose in court.
“The council decided that they would not contest the eminent domain,” said Siver.
“Why do they want it so badly that they were willing to sue the city that they should be working with not against,” said Miller.
“That’s not right at all. That’s not really being considerate of the people in this area,” said Moore.
But Southfield Schools Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Green and Board President Charles Hicks insist that they are simply following a new state law that mandates districts create emergency plans. And right now, there’s only one way in and out for staff from the district offices and bus depot on the property.
“We have to remain compliant with law, and as of today we are out of compliance in this specific area. This is not something we initiated,” said Green.
“If there were a fire or active shooter, we want to make sure that we have a method to have buses deployed in order to support any emergency effort,” said Hicks.
Both Hicks and Green agree that communication with the residents got botched from the start when they sent notice to a now-defunct homeowners association about the project. Residents say there’s never been a homeowner’s association that they were aware of. Green and Hicks say they held three town hall meetings after learning of their error and they both deny they’re bullying anyone.
“Can you explain why someone would put this in someone’s mailbox,” Catallo asked Hicks about the anonymous note that says ‘Charles Hicks coming at you.’
“I have no idea ma’am. I was disappointed and upset that that occurred. Because Charles Hicks is not coming after anybody,” said Hicks. “When you think of Parkland or Sandy Hook or Columbine… those administrators and districts said, 'what could we have done differently?' What we’re trying to do is proactively look at what we can do to fortify our measures in the case of an emergency.”
District officials have promised that once the access road is complete it will be gated on both sides and the only people that will be able to open those are emergency first responders. They say they won’t allow it to be used as a cut-through.
Construction is expected to begin soon.