Detroit City Council deliberated for about nine hours as officials wrapped up their final session of the year, taking on last-minute approvals and referrals.
Among those was a development agreement for the Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center, an empty center in Detroit’s Brush Park neighborhood where boxing legend Joe Louis once trained and generations of young Detroiters learned to swim. The agreement calls for building four multifamily residential buildings with about 50 apartments each and a renovated recreation space.
Developer MHT Housing Inc. sought to dedicate most of the 200 units as affordable housing, but Brush Park residents were not on board due to a recent uptick in vehicle vandalism in the area, and asked for market-rate options. The resolution approved by City Council on Tuesday calls for the four residential developments to contain a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, one of which will provide housing for those who have aged out of foster care, along with a renovated indoor recreation facility.
“When I first got here in 2013, it was on the demolition list. And we fought really hard to get that building saved,” said Council President Mary Sheffield, who walked on a resolution urging the developer to engage with the Brush Park Community Development Corp. to discuss concerns and explore options for market-rate units in the plan.
MHT Housing President T. Van Fox said the plan includes a renovated community center for all that will not require an admission fee.
“There will be the full recognition of a neighborhood club for all, recognizing the arts, recognizing the athletics, recognizing a full complete restoration of the exterior (and) interior,” Fox said, adding the company is applying for various permits for roofing, limestone, brick, flooring, lighting, HVAC systems and more to restore the property.
City Council is set to return Jan. 9, and referred several matters until then. Officials approved various resolutions in the meantime.
Tuesday’s meeting stretched through the evening, primarily due to a long line of public commenters who urged officials to call for a cease-fire in Gaza after violence broke out on Oct. 7 between Israel and Hamas. City Council weighed a resolution for weeks, calling for various changes in language, and passed it in a 7-2 vote.
An initiative to help Detroit businesses win bids on city contracts, known as the responsible contractors ordinance, passed. The ordinance would provide equalization credits to eligible businesses to help them secure contracts. Incentives are available for companies that provide health insurance and retirement benefits to employees working on the contract or participating in registered apprenticeship programs.
Advocates of reforming the city’s property tax ordinance say changes are expected to provide residents with greater transparency in the assessment process. City Council would hire an independent evaluator to create an annual study of assessments for council’s review, in which they could take no action or request an appeal to the Board of Review.
The city’s law department opposed council hiring an independent evaluator because it would undermine the authority of the city’s chief financial officer.
Council member Mary Waters pushed for two extra members of the Board of Zoning Appeals, which is responsible for hearing and deciding decisions made by city officials tasked with enforcing zoning rules, and accepting appeals from the Buildings Safety Engineering and Environmental Department.
Waters argued that the seven-member board faced challenges with meeting a quorum and increasing numbers would help. Members are from each of the seven council districts.
President Pro Tem James Tate, who was against it, said all council members have the ability to approve and nominate board members. Member Fred Durhal III also opposed it with concerns over biases from multiple board members being from one district over others.
Detroit will undergo energy and water benchmarking and transparency. The policy requires property owners of municipal, commercial and multifamily buildings of more than 100,000 gross square feet to track and disclose the building’s annual energy and water usage annually beginning next year. The reporting deadline is June 1 of each year. Commercial and multifamily buildings between 25,000 and 100,000 gross square feet will begin reporting data in 2025.
“To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we need to come up with solutions driven by data, not best guesses. This ordinance, along with other key strategies in the Detroit Climate Strategy, makes our city a leader in sustainability,” said Councilman Scott Benson.
Free Press staff writer JC Reindl contributed to this article.
Dana Afana is the Detroit city hall reporter for the Free Press. Contact: or 313-635-3491. Follow her: @DanaAfana.