By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – From potholes to policing, from Fairlane Town Center to Camp Dearborn, Mayor Abdullah Hammoud answered questions from residents at a Southwestern Outer Drive Neighborhood Association meeting March 10 at Whitmore-Bolles Elementary School.
Hammoud, in his 10th week of office, spoke about the changes occurring in the city under his administration, then answered questions from residents for more than an hour.
The mayor said that, following his transition team’s study, city structures have changed and plans have been put into plan to get resources, like grants, that often go unclaimed.
“Given that the last census put us over a population of 100,000, there are a lot of doors now open because you crossed that 100,000-resident threshold,” he said. “But the city of Dearborn’s top grant writer was actually our fire chief for the last five or six years, and we didn’t have anyone who was actually specialized in the field of grant writing.”
Hammoud said he established the office of Philanthropy and Grants, headed by Nicole Hefty, to apply for the large, significant grants, some of which go unclaimed every year.
The mayor said the Building, Planning and Zoning departments are now together, as part of the Economic Development department.
“What we found was when a business owner, entrepreneur or a resident walked through our door, they didn’t know who to speak with,” he said. “Or maybe they went to Planning to begin, but they were supposed to go to Development first; or maybe they went to Zoning first but were supposed to go to Planning to begin with, and so, we thought that if you had them all centralized under one umbrella, you can have a liaison who will assist you in navigating that process.”
Hammoud said a lot of business owners would express frustration because they would miss monthly meetings, like the Zoning Board, and their business development process would be delayed.
He said Public Works and Facilities is one of the biggest changes his administration has made. Sanitation, which was under the Building Department, and the management of the senior housing buildings, which used to be under Economic Development, are now both part of Public Works and Facilities.
“So, now we have one department that manages all the services and facilities that touch our residents,” Hammoud said. “Everything from sanitation, to the plowing of our streets, to our tree trimming, to the management of our buildings and the management of our senior homes.”
TRAFFIC SAFETY, POLICE PRESENCE
He said the city’s second biggest change has been its traffic safety unit.
“We have a lot more police officers in our neighborhoods and on the roadways,” he said. “We shifted our enforcement to focus on things that matter, and what we heard all across the city was that speeding and reckless driving was a major issue.”
He said the traffic safety unit consists of nearly 20 officers, who strictly focus on moving violations, and it is not a short-term program, but is permanent.
Hammoud said there is also a greater police presence in the neighborhoods to help deter car theft and break-ins.
He said they also are increasing weight limit enforcement for the heavy vehicles that are rough on the roads.
“We actually have a motor carrier unit that can tell, based on the truck driving, if they are exceeding that weight limit,” he said. “We actually have a weigh station outside of our Dearborn police station, so, it you drive by now, you are going to see a lot more trucks lining up, because our motor carrier unit is pulling them in to weigh them, and giving them a very hefty fine if they are exceeding that weight limit.”
Hammoud said the enforcement is focused on protecting roads from further damage from overweight vehicles.
The mayor said those who bought their house before 2021 or did not remodel their home since 2021 should see a property tax reduction.
The state’s taxable value multiplier, which is based on inflation, was 3.3 percent this year, but due to the millage reduction, based on the non-passage of the supplemental operating millage in November, there was a reduction of 3.5 mills, so that reduction offsets the increase.
Hammoud said the loss of the 3.5 mills of revenue means the city will have $16 million less in its general fund.
He said he hopes the budget will allow the city to provide the same level of services residents expect, if not better, with fewer resources, and said public conversations will be held on specific topics to get resident input.
FAIRLANE TOWN CENTER
Hammoud said in the past, the city took a backseat to what was happening at and around Fairlane mall, and his administration is going to publish its vision and work with developers.
He said there is a six-acre, 92-unit condo complex that is coming live next year, which has been delayed by the pandemic.
Hammoud said that by the end of the month, a new entity should close on the ownership of Fairlane. He noted that the mall is owned by one entity, while the anchor stores are independently owned.
“That mall does fairly well, financially,” Hammoud said. “That Macy’s is one of the top three Macy’s in the country, and JCPenney is one of the top grossing JCPenneys in the country.”
He said the mall realizes more than $100 million in revenue annually.
“Although maybe a chunk of Dearborn residents no longer patronize that mall, it still is doing very well in business, and I think there is just a rebrand that can occur, and maybe some new developments that can give way,” Hammoud said. “And maybe some elimination of those 8,500 parking spaces, because it is just a sea of cement, and giving way to some new green spaces, that can bring biking and hiking and some more residential interactions.”
The mayor said he isn’t at liberty to say too much, but acknowledged that the city is in conversations with Meijer to bring a store to Dearborn.
“We are having those conversations now,” he said. “They haven’t finalized any land purchases – there is private land that they are trying to acquire to actually bring a Meijer in, but they have to make it work financially.”
CAMP DEARBORN AND TENT VILLAGE
Hammoud explained the decision to eliminate the tent village at Camp Dearborn, noting that the wood frames were built in the 1970s and 1980s, and in 1995, the last green canvas tents were purchased. He said the tents were never properly stored during harsh weather, and the tent village is coming down this month.
“It posed a very bad public health hazard to patrons,” he said. “When we called every single Dearborn resident that had a reservation, to let them know that it is being canceled, and apologized for the inconvenience, many of them informed us – at least a dozen – that they were taking their own tool kits every single year to make repairs to their tent that they were renting out.”
Hammoud said that all of the electric in the Tent Village will be updated, and the city will try to develop new camping opportunities. He said he was unsure whether rustic cabins, recreational camper and trailer sites or self-tenting options will be implemented.
He said the tent village was not a money maker, and that Camp Dearborn costs the city about $1 million a year.
Hammoud said he wants to find a way to reinvigorate Camp Dearborn so it isn’t losing money.
“We have to make the investments that are necessary to hopefully bring up the amenities that entice more people to come,” he said. “The golf course, for the first time in 10 years, came in the black, at $85,000.”
Hammoud said the oil wells on the property do not offset the losses.
He said the city also is paying about $200,000 annually for a hayride accident that happened at Camp Dearborn.
Hammoud said his administration has no intention to sell Camp Dearborn.
“What we want to do is invest in Camp Dearborn,” he said. “There are a lot of elements to Camp Dearborn that we are trying to put money back in to bring up these amenities to hopefully bring people back in.”
Hammoud said it will take time and money to implement the needed improvements, to invest in Camp Dearborn and “reverse course.”
City Councilmembers Ken Paris, Mustapha Hammoud and Leslie Herrick were in attendance at the meeting, as were state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-3rd District) and U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell ( D-12th District) and Rashida Tlaib (D-13th District), and 15th District state House Democrat Party candidate Jeffrey Pepper.
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